Facade program revivedPublished 5:47pm Friday, August 16, 2013
Washington is reviving a once-popular program that helps downtown property owners and businesses improve the exterior appearance of their businesses.
In the past, the program provided funds to help replace awnings, replace windows, repoint bricks and make other aesthetic upgrades. This time around, the program will pay for roof repairs and landscaping, along with items it paid for in the past. The city’s 2013-2014 fiscal-year budget appropriates $10,000 for the façade program. Property owners/business owners apply for grants. Those applications are reviewed, and grant recipients are selected. Grant recipients are required to contribute money toward their projects.
In the past, the city would pay for half the cost of the project, up to $2,000. However, businesses located on corners or bearing front and rear facades used to receive up to $4,000 — or $2,000 for each facade.
Councilman Bobby Roberson is familiar with the program. He oversaw it when he was the city’s planning and development director.
“It’s our responsibility, if we can, to provide economic development whenever we can. I think one of the things we are trying to do is address that fact that a lot of the business, at this particular time, are vacant,” Roberson said. “What we want to do is give the owners an incentive to at least address the front facades of their buildings and sort of bring that up to date. That will encourage other people to take a look at the building and go inside to see what they need to do to retrofit the building. It’s a program that over the years, we felt like, helped improve the appearance of the central business district.”
Roberson has hopes the state, once it settles from the upheaval in how it funds economic-development efforts, will find avenues to provide grant funding for efforts like the city’s façade program.
“The appropriation depends on how much money the city will see from the state on the budget. The new governor has changed a lot of programs. We’re not sure about the status of those,” Roberson said.
If the revived program proves as popular as it was several years ago, Roberson said, he would like to see the funding for it increased to $20,000 annually, if not more, in coming years.
The program, which began in fiscal year 1991-1992, awarded 143 grants totaling $256,660 through fiscal year 2007-2008, according to city records. The total cost of improvements made to the downtown properties during that period came to $1,164,784, according to city records. There were no grants awarded in fiscal year 2003-2004.
Initially, the city’s contributions to the program came from an annual principal-and-interest payment — about $22,000 — on the Urban Development Action Grant loan used to finance construction of the former Bonnie Products building at the Beaufort County Industrial Park. The payments come to the city, which was required to use the funds for economic development. Funds not used in one year were carried over to the next.