More than 30 people with a stake in downtown Urbana filled the municipal building’s fire training room on Jan. 5 to discuss the possibility of pursuing a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through the Ohio Development Services Agency’s (ODSA) Downtown Revitalization Program.
Hosted by the city of Urbana Community Development Office and the Champaign Economic Partnership, the meeting gave business owners and property owners a chance to speak with representatives from Poggemeyer Design Group about the federally-funded program last used by the city around the turn of the century.
“There was quite a bit of building facade work that got done at that time as well as some streetscape work,” said Community Development Manager Doug Crabill, who noted the city has not formally selected Poggemeyer as its consultant. “We are just trying to see if there is enough interest to move forward with an application. Obviously, based on the response today, there is certainly interest.”
According to the ODSA website, projects will be considered for downtown revitalization funds if they are designed to improve central business districts, aid in the elimination of slums or blighted structures, create and retain permanent/private-sector job opportunities for low- and moderate-income households through a targeted investment in facade improvements, remediation of building code violations and/or investment in streetscapes or other public infrastructure.
Lauren Falcone, a representative with Poggemeyer Design Group, informed those in attendance that CDBG funds secured through the ODSA’s Downtown Revitalization Program is a “two-component grant.”
“It would be a downtown revitalization grant, but it would include business and building owners improving their facade or code to their buildings, and it would also include the city doing something to the infrastructure downtown,” she said.
Ideas tossed around as to what the city could do to fulfill its infrastructure requirement included the upcoming roundabout improvement project as well as the possibility of finding a location to put in public restrooms.
“I don’t know if we’ve developed what the other public infrastructure might be at this time, but I’m sure there is something we can identify,” Crabill said.
In order for the city and local building/business owners to begin the process of applying for the grant, Falcone said, all applicants must meet the national objective of eliminating slum and blight, meaning the city would have to apply for slum and blight certification.
“It’s not a big deal,” she added. “When you are saying your community is slum and blight, it sounds horrible, but you are only saying the infrastructure and the buildings need at least minor or major repair.”
Business/building owners would need to sign a letter of commitment informing the state of their intentions to improve their buildings and what they are willing to spend to do so, Falcone said.
Crabill added the portion of the city that would be included in the grant is the City Center Heritage Overlay District. Its boundaries stretch north and south from Ward Street to Water Street, and west and east from High Street to Kenton Street.
Making an impression, additional grant details
According to Falcone, the OSDA typically receives 12 to 15 applications for the downtown revitalization grant per year as it is unique in the fact it awards funds to private property owners, most of whom must have some form of a commercial business located on the first floor.
“(OSDA’s) whole idea is they are giving this money to make your downtown a better place to get people in there buying and selling things,” she said.
OSDA funds five or six projects a year, Falcone added.
If the city and local building/business owners were to submit an application this year, many of the initial requirements have already been met, Falcone pointed out.
“It’s a pretty competitive pool. What they are looking at when they are looking at funding is … participation by the building and business owners, participation on behalf of the city with infrastructure projects, and then they will see if you have a business association and have design review in place,” she said.
Falcone said if the city were to be awarded the funding, $100,000 to $150,000 of the total grant is usually earmarked for property owners, who typically must provide a 50 percent match.
“We aren’t talking about huge grants,” she said. “Usually we say $10,000 per building, but that could help 15 property owners make improvements to their buildings.”
As for how property owners could spend the funds, Falcone added, “Pretty much anything is eligible except cosmetic.”
Eligible code work activities include HVAC upgrades, roofs, ADA access, structural issues, plumbing, wiring and fire code. Eligible facade work includes windows, doors, awning, painting, cleaning, tuck pointing and signage.
Following the downtown stakeholder meeting, Crabill said the plan is to continue discussing the grant and whether or not to apply this year or hold off for a year or two.
If the city and downtown property owners decide to apply for the revitalization grant this year, Falcone said, the earliest the funding could be put to use is the end of the year or early 2018 due to red tape in the process.