Archived Story

Façade program could get boost

Published 9:22pm Friday, January 10, 2014

Washington’s façade-grant program, used to improve exteriors of buildings in downtown Washington, could be receiving more city funds.

The City Council, during its meeting Monday, will consider adding money to the program, which it revived this fiscal year.

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.

Recent recipients were Angel’s Body Works & Gift Shop, $380; Wayland Sermons (buildings at intersection of Main and Market streets), $4,000; Washington Jewelers, $3,724; Williams & Associates, $1,250. Those grants total $9,354.

“Several requests are pending for this fiscal year and additional funds are requested to support these improvements,” wrote John Rodman, the city’s cultural and community services director, in a memorandum he sent to the mayor and City Council.

Rodman requests $10,090 be transferred from the city’s general fund to the façade fund.

Seven other property owners have submitted applications requesting façade-grant funds. Six of them are asking for $2,000 each. One is seeking $1,750.

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 in October. “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 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.



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