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Small Grants Can Make Big Impacts in Downtown

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Elk Rapids is looking forward to a pretty significant facelift this spring with four downtown buildings receiving Community Development Block Grant funding through the MEDC for façade improvements. This projects brings over $425,000 total investment to the village and has been in the works for the past two years. This leaves communities in the area wondering how they can spur improvements on a smaller scale and many find Mini Façade Improvement Grants can be the answer.

The Odd Fellows Building on Water Street in Boyne City has been the recipient of a facelift thanks to Façade Improvement Grant Funding.

The Odd Fellows Building on Water Street in Boyne City has been the recipient of a facelift thanks to Façade Improvement Grant Funding.

One community that has been engaged in façade improvement for a while is Petoskey, and they serve as an excellent example of how these programs can be structured. Downtown Director, Becky Goodman, was kind enough to present on the Petoskey Façade Program at the March DDA Forum.

Since Petoskey began their program in 2008 they have helped fund 38 projects throughout their district focusing on historical preservation and maintenance. Each year the Downtown Management Board allows $20,000 of their annual budget to be used for competitive grants and requires applicants to conform to Downtown Design Guidelines established specifically for Downtown Petoskey.

Boyne City Mainstreet uses funds raised through Boyne Thunder to assist 31 projects through their façade program. Mainstreet Director, Kelsie King-Duff encouraged assessing your program requirements annually in order to meet the needs of your community. When communities are just beginning façade improvement grants they may not have a large pool of money to draw from, so funding smaller projects like paint or signage can have a vibrant impact and lead to more interest in the programs. As your program gets bigger and your town sees the improvements, more substantial projects may be needed to continue creating the impact you are looking for.

The important thing to keep in mind when beginning a façade program is to make it work for your community. If you are not ready to undertake a design guide specific to your community, utilize those available through the Mainstreet toolbox. If you do have a more substantial budget, make sure the projects your funding have the substantial impact to match. And, most importantly, if you are using TIF dollars to fund your façade program, be sure that is allowed in your TIF plan.

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