Storefront program gets boost

Published 3:11 am Thursday, February 12, 2009

By Staff
Reallocation revives popular city program
Contributing Editor
A city program popular with downtown property owners won’t fade away, at least not this fiscal year.
On Monday, the Washington City Council reallocated $15,000 for alley improvements to the city’s facade improvement program. Downtown Washington on the Waterfront recommended the move, saying merchants in the central business district would be better served by spending the money on storefront improvements than alley improvements.
John Rodman, a city planner, said the reallocation is good news for downtown property owners seeking grants.
The shifting of the money breathes new life into the grant program. Without the $15,000, the program faced termination this fiscal year because the pool of money used to pay for it all but dried up. Before the reallocation of the $15,000, there was about $4,000 in the program.
The facade-improvement program, which the city has administered for 17 years, provides half the cost of an approved 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.
The city uses the grant program to encourage businesses to improve their buildings’ appearances. The program is responsible for many of the downtown facade improvements during that period, city officials said.
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.
In past years, the city’s contribution 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 came 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.
Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association and a grant recipient several years ago, thanked DWOW for recommending the reallocation and the council for approving it.