If you live, work, visit, shop or dine downtown, you’ve likely noticed exterior renovations at established merchants such as Regina’s Boutique or Sparrow Hawk Gourmet Cookware.
Or you might have seen the streetscape/landscape project at First Congregational Church, or attended an arts or cultural event hosted by Nosh at FAC Modern.
If so, you’ve witnessed the results of the Downtown Development Authority’s Challenge Grants.
Established during 2006, the DDA provides financial incentives for downtown development — which usually costs four to five times as much as suburban development.
The grants are awarded via an application process to residential or commercial tenants or property owners.
Beth Kosley, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, said the DDA was an outgrowth of the Imagine Downtown planning process.
The DDA has an 11-member board of directors, appointed by City Council. Its top five goals are rebuilding downtown as a community and as a residential neighborhood, job creation and economic development, continuing the growth of arts and culture, attracting more retail (since January there’s been more retail growth downtown than during the past two years) and ensuring that “all the development is designed with the best pedestrian access and is as multi-modal as possible.”
During 2008, the DDA awarded 17 Challenge Grants, which totaled $310,000, requiring a dollar for dollar match, although Kosley said most grantees “put in much more than that.”
For instance, Regina Heuberger-Romrell, owner of Regina’s Boutique, received a $35,000 grant, adding $75,000 of her own money.
The grant limits were $40,000 per project, and most grants were in the $10,000 range, Kosley said.
The DDA is funded by a 5-mill, voter-approved tax levy (about $75 annually for a $150,000 property) within the downtown district, and through tax increment financing — a “capture” of increased property tax revenue following a baseline assessment.
TIF revenue is put into a special fund, which is expected to yield up to $90 million for downtown investment during the next 30 years.
The committee is planning to hold a workshop next month for residential and business tenants/owners who are interested in applying for a grant (check www.downtowncs.com in a few weeks for details).
A word to the wise — when opportunity presents itself — be flexible.
Heuberger-Romrell, who owns the building at 119 N. Tejon St., originally planned to renovate the interior first. But, after learning about the DDA grants, she hired an architect for exterior plans, creating presentation boards to display renderings, blueprints and paint and tile samples.
After being awarded a grant, she began construction during the first week of September and expects work to be completed by the end of the month.
Heuberger-Romrell recommends that property owners or tenants who plan to apply for a grant hire an architect, get professional expertise with writing a grant proposal and submit “before” photos along with the renovation proposal.
“It definitely helped me to have a plan, do background preparation and make a visually appealing presentation — not just use words,” Heuberger-Romrell said. “I was blessed to get the $35,000 — it was one of the biggest grants. Thank God I won.”