Businesses benefit from facade programPublished 2:51pm Monday, February 3, 2014
Great customer service, a more-than-adequate inventory and easy access help Washington’s downtown businesses attract customers.
So does an attractive storefront. And to that end, the City of Washington has a program that helps downtown businesses improved their facades in an effort to attract more customers.
The city’s façade grant program helps downtown business and/or property owners add or replace awnings, replace windows and doors with historically accurate replacements and other work such as painting or repointing brickwork. The façade grant program has proven popular over the years. Last month, the City Council allocated more funding for the program, moving $10,090 from the city’s general fund to the façade program. The current city budget had appropriated $10,000. That allocation was needed because demand for façade grant funds exceeded the amount budgeted for the program.
Hood Richardson, whose surveying and engineering business is located in a downtown building built in 1911, recently participated in the program.
“Of course, you know, I’m a conservative. I probably wouldn’t have the program if it were up to me. People need to take care of their own property, but it does induce people into making their property attractive,” Richardson said. “It probably speeds up work that people would put off longer than they should.”
Richardson did the work to his building.
“They didn’t pay me for my time I put into it. What we did was rework the windows on the front of the building, the back of the building. … This building was built in 1911, and they mortar in it and the brick — the brick are not fired to full vitrification and the mortar is made from shell. So, it leaches real quick leach. … We did a lot of remortaring of joints to stop that leaching that’s going on,” Richardson said.
Façade grant applications are reviewed, and grant recipients 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 requested $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 an interview. “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.”
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.