Decatur Downtown Development Authority discusses facade improvement grant programThe Decatur Downtown Development Authority met on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, to discuss a facade improvement grant program and the cottage court project. Photo by Zoe Seiler.
This story has been updated.
Decatur, GA — The city of Decatur is working to create a facade improvement grant program to support retail small business owners in making repairs and renovations to commercial and mixed-use buildings.
The Decatur Downtown Development Authority gave feedback on the program framework during its meeting on Sept. 9. The DDA did not take any action during the meeting, since the board did not have a quorum of board members at the meeting.
The DDA has appropriated $100,000 toward the grant program in the fiscal year 2022-2023 budget.
“We designed it to reimburse the expenses incurred by large projects versus just giving the grant, and then for one-time projects, such as graffiti and things like that, those would be the micro-grants we would provide,” Decatur Business Development Manager Shirley Baylis said.
Grant awards for larger projects range from $2,500 to $10,000. The micro-grant for one-time minor improvements would be $1,000.
“On the larger grants, we’re looking at an 80/20, where 80% would be reimbursed once documents have been submitted if they’re an approved grant recipient, and then the property or the business would take care of the remaining 20%,” Baylis said.
The project must start within six months of receiving the grant approval and has to be completed within 18 months.
The initial eligibility criteria include:
– The business must be located in the city of Decatur.
– The business must have been established for at least two years.
– The business must have paid all taxes, fees and other assessments.
– There are no outstanding judgements against the business.
– There are no current proceedings in bankruptcy.
– There are no state or federal tax liens currently pending against the business.
– Must be able to commit matching grants.
“We also want them to follow the guidelines of having less than 25 employees to be considered as a small business, and if they are a restaurant or retail, annual receipts do not exceed $3.5 million, and personal and professional services, their annual receipts do not exceed $3.5 million as well,” Baylis said.
Some of the work that would be eligible for the facade improvement grant include masonry repairs, storefront reconstruction, awnings and canopies, exterior painting and stucco, window and door repairs and replacements, repairs and replacement of gutters and down spouts, and permanent exterior lighting.
Other eligible items are roof repairs effecting the building facade, decking and stairs, sign design and installation, improvement to outdoor seating areas and landscape, removal of graffiti, and pressure washing.
A committee will be established to review the applications, establish criteria and standards for applicants, create the submission requirements, make recommendations to the DDA for final action on the applications, and establish oversight and ongoing submission obligations for each grant recipient.
The committee will be made up of two representatives from the DDA, a representative from the Historic Preservation Commission, the city’s business development manager, and the city’s historic preservation planner.
Board member Darren Comer wondered about the criteria that a business must be established in the city for two years and suggested incorporating a mechanism in the program to support new businesses as well.
“I think it will achieve that goal of motivating the folks who have been slow [to make improvements], but I would say that if we could maybe figure out a way, again if the priorities are there, oftentimes the investment does occur in new turning over businesses. That’s where the moment is ripe,” Comer said.
DDA Vice Chair Noah Peeters said that through the grant program, work will get done that the city wants to see get done.
“It will continue to benefit us. When that business fails in month six, the fact that its frontage has been refurbished is a value to the whole community,” Peeters said.
He also added that eligible work should be permanent improvements.
“We shouldn’t be buying people tables and chairs, we should be basically making the exterior hardscape appropriate for use and making improvements, so it can be used,” Peeters said. “What we don’t want to [put] on that risk is to invest in things that, when those businesses fail, they disappear with them and don’t have lasting value to the community.”
In other business, Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said the builder of the Oak Cottage Court project is finishing up tree removal and working on tree prescriptions on the site.
“We have our project arborist that is out there doing tree prescription, and then we’re going to be getting into the site over the next couple of weeks. That’s roughly going to take about 75 days,” Threadgill said.
Threadgill told Decatur that “tree prescriptions are methods, like limb pruning, tree cabling, root pruning, addition of beneficial mychorizal fungi, micro & macro nutrients, insect prevention methods, and watering schedules to help the trees survive the impacts proposed to the root areas.”
On the site there are trees behind a wooden fence, and those trees will remain on the property. Threadgill said the fence is not the property line.
“We are keeping up the fence. It’s almost like a protection for those trees, but ultimately that fence does need to come down because we’re going to be doing a lot more landscaping. There’s a bioswale to assist with some of the stormwater management on the site,” Threadgill said.
The DDA will meet again on Friday, Oct. 14, at 8 a.m. at City Hall, 509 N. McDonough Street. Beginning in October, the DDA meetings will be streamed through Zoom and the city’s website.
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