Keep it going

Published 10:17 am Saturday, November 15, 2008

By Staff
Several Washington property owners, residents and merchants told the Washington City Council this week they would like to see the city’s facade-grant program restored.
Jean Thompson, owner of Cat Bamboo on West Main Street; Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association and who owns property downtown; and Scott Campbell, a downtown resident and property owner, told the council they believe the facade-grant program is extremely valuable to the city.
The program, which has proven popular with downtown property owners and others, will come to an end unless a new source of money to keep it going is identified and used.
In September, Bobby Roberson, the city’s director of planning and development, said he considers the program one of the most-effective programs ever offered by the city.
Campbell said he was a recipient of money from the facade-grant program. He used the money to help change the facade of the building he and Bill Sykes are renovating for residential use. They are converting the building at 213 N. Market St. into condominiums.
Although the grant they received amounted to a small percentage of the overall project’s cost, that amount was appreciated, Campbell said.
Thompson and Tomasulo said their properties, not to mention downtown, benefited from the program.
The program, offered and administered by the city for 16 years, provided half the cost of an approved project, up to $2,000. However, properties located on corners or bearing front and rear facades used to receive up to $4,000 — or $2,000 for each facade.
The city used the grant program to encourage businesses and property owners to improve their buildings’ appearances. The program is responsible for many of the downtown facade improvements during that period, according to Roberson.
Many old, tattered awnings were replaced. Aging doors and windows were replaced. Sometimes the changes to facades were nothing more than new paint jobs.
The pool of money used to fund the program is all but gone this current fiscal year.
The revenue for 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 Bonny Products building at the Beaufort County Industrial Park. The payments come to the city, which was required to use that revenue for economic-development purposes. Monies not used in one year were carried over to the next.
That loan was paid off, leaving about $1,600 in the pool. By adding some money not used by property owners who were selected to receive grants last year to that $1,600, the city has about $4,800 to be divided among this year’s applicants for grants.
As far as Campbell, Thompson and Tomasulo are concerned, the city must find another revenue source to keep the program up and running. They are convinced the program is worth saving.
The City Council knows the value of the program. Its challenge is finding a revenue source to support the program.
The city cannot afford to let such a program disappear. For a program that costs about $22,000 a year to run and produces such significant and visible results, city officials must find a way to sustain it.