BY SARAH R. GREGORY
A new grant program that would focus on improving buildings downtown and bringing in new businesses was the primary topic of discussion Tuesday for the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Aldermen did not take action to implement what is being dubbed the "Downtown Facade Grant" program but heard an update outlining the proposal from City Administrator Todd Smith.
Smith is expected to bring the proposal to the board for a vote in the coming weeks.
The overall goal, he said, is to increase commercial property values while increasing job opportunities downtown.
FUNDS FROM SURPLUS SALES
Essentially, the program would take some reserve funds earmarked for downtown revitalization and create a 50/50 grant program that would provide grants of between $2,500 and $5,000 for building improvements.
In early 2013, the town sold surplus, unused properties and earmarked their proceeds -- approximately $48,000 -- for downtown revitalization.
A commitment from Heritage Community Bank to provide $5,000 for the program means the public/private grant partnership would have about $53,000 to use in administering grants, Smith said.
In the future, the town hopes the program would work with another program that is in the works -- a loan pool that would provide low-interest loans to new businesses -- to create an incentive package that would make downtown "a viable place" to conduct business.
"I felt it was important that the Town of Greeneville participate in creating some sort of incentive for downtown," Smith said, adding that such incentive packages "sweeten the pot" for businesses considering setting up shop downtown.
POSSIBLE PROCEDURES OUTLINED
Although the program has not yet been approved for implementation, a project outline from Smith illustrated for board members how the Downtown Facade Grant program would work.
Smith's recommendation is that the Building Department oversee the program's execution, including development of a grant application, project review, recommending projects for approval and overseeing their implementation.
Smith also proposes a committee -- potentially consisting of the Mayor, City Administrator, and a representative of Heritage Community Bank -- to approve grant projects awarded funding.
The 50/50 matching grants would be limited to $2,500 per side of the building facing a public street up to a total maximum per project of $5,000, Smith said.
Smith said he will likely recommend the program administer $10,000 to $15,000 annually, so that the funding it is established with will stretch over several years.
All projects would be required to adhere to Greeneville's zoning and building ordinances to receive funding, he said, and funds would be reimbursed to the applicant after the expenses had already been incurred.
The outline also described several possible criteria for the grant, including:
* total area of the building improved;
* visual effect from the street/sidewalk level;
* historic significance of the building;
* overall scope of the project and impact to downtown;
* the number of new jobs created associated with the improvements; and,
* the amount of new investment associated with the improvements.
WHAT WOULD QUALIFY
A number of types of projects would qualify for grant funding, Smith said.
Qualifying projects outlined include:
* masonry repairs;
* repair/replacement/preservation of historically significant architectural details;
* storefront reconstruction;
* cornice repair;
* exterior painting and stucco;
* awnings and canopies;
* window and door repair/replacement;
* permanent exterior signage integrated into storefront design;
* permanent exterior lighting;
* repair/replacement of gutters and downspouts;
* visible roof repairs in conjunction with structural improvements;
* decking and stairs; and,
* visible electrical or mechanical equipment enclosures.
Several other types of projects would not qualify for grant funding, such as improvements made prior to the grant approval, landscaping, parking lots, billboards, interior renovations, and new construction or property acquisition, among others.
AN 'EXCITING' PLAN
While no formal vote was taken and the proposal remains in the planning stages, members of the board appeared generally supportive of the idea.
"It's kind of exciting. It's part of the downtown redevelopment plan," Mayor W.T. Daniels said, adding that he hopes the project can kick-off soon to "encourage people to become part of the downtown" area.
"I think it's a good program," he said, adding that offering such a program is something the town can do "to help bring downtown back to life."
Smith said he felt that using funds from the sale of surplus property was a good "return on investment."
Alderman Darrell Bryan agreed, noting that the situation was a "win-win" as the town was able to rid itself of some financial liabilities associated with the surplus properties that were sold and use the proceeds to improve the downtown area.
As discussion concluded, Daniels invited Main Street: Greeneville Executive Director Jann Mirkov, who was in the audience, to comment on the program.
Mirkov said her organization was "thrilled" to work with the town on such a project, as well as others in the future.
"We also have a couple things in the pipeline, and as soon as we can make an announcement, we will," she said.
"This is exciting," she said, adding that downtown has "had a tremendous amount of improvements in this last year," such as continued work on the Walters State Community College campus expansion.