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New Grant Program Aims To Spur Downtown Investment

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jun 19, 2017
One program under Wilmington’s new Municipal Services District aims to help business and property owners looking to spruce up the exterior of their downtown business.

Included within the city of Wilmington’s professional services contract with Wilmington Downtown Inc. for the newly established Municipal Services District -- beginning July 1 -- is a new facade grant program, according to WDI President and CEO Ed Wolverton.

On June 6, Wilmington City Council approved the MSD contract with WDI, to provide services, including an ambassadors program intended to improve safety and cleanliness to the special downtown tax district. While the bulk of the $377,000 in funds will go toward those MSD services, about $15,000 of the funds will be used for the facade grant program.

Facade grant programs, Wolverton said, are tools that many cities use to help spur investment in downtown buildings.

The programs are typically used to insure a front of a building is well designed and attractive, he said. The program also provides a benefit to people with small businesses as a way to help defer the expense of purchase or repair of items such as awnings, window, doors and signs, which is sometimes difficult for small business owners, he said.

“The exterior or a front of a building is crucial for setting the tone for a business, for customers and encourage people to visit,” Wolverton said. “It’s a very common tool that has been used throughout the entire country for many years.”

Wolverton said its similar to the facade grant program he worked to put in place during his time in Savannah, Georgia in the early 1990s. There are a number of other cities in North Carolina that have also have similar programs, including Greensboro, Burlington, Chapel Hill and Wilson, Wolverton said.

WDI officials are currently working to establish a matching grant program that would require the business owner or property owner to invest in a 50-50 match with WDI, with a maximum award of $2,500 from the facade grant program toward any one project, Wolverton said.

Business or property owners seeking the grant would be required to go through a formal application process with WDI. In theory, a business would get an estimate from a contractor or services provider and apply to WDI with any design changes, he said.

If a property or building is regulated by the Historic Preservation Commission, the organization would also have to sign off on any changes during the owner's application process, he added.

The exact terms of the facade grant program are still being reviewed by a WDI committee, Wolverton said.

The program could begin in July, he said.
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