Real Estate - Commercial

Granting New Faces To Old Buildings In Downtown Wilmington

By Cece Nunn, posted Oct 22, 2021
Downtown Wilmington eatery Taco Baby, 125 Grace St., received a grant to help the business improve its building's facade. (Photo courtesy of Wilmington Downtown Inc.)
More than 120 years ago, crews constructed the building where, this year, Frank Efird opened a real estate office in downtown Wilmington. 

The structure at 6 Market St., which Efird bought in May, needs some work.

“We’ve got five windows in the front of this building, and the top three windows on the second floor are totally rotted out and painted shut as well as the two windows on either side of the front door,” said Efird, who is managing director of SVN | Efird Commercial Real Estate.

A $2,500 facade grant from Wilmington Downtown Inc. will help him accomplish that.

“It's going to improve the look of our building, which improves the look of this end of Market Street,” Efird said. “It’s going to help us a lot with that first impression.”

WDI’s Facade Improvement Grant (FIG) Program was allocated $15,000 this fiscal year through the Municipal Services District (MSD) to distribute to local businesses within the MSD for storefront improvements, according to a WDI news release.

The program started in 2017, and recipients in previous years have included Hell’s Kitchen and Floriana Wilmington.

“The program was underutilized in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many area businesses concentrated on surviving rather than making capital improvements,” the release stated. “The recent grant approvals show this program is taking off again, and downtown businesses are now in a position to make necessary investments in their properties.”

According to the release, members of WDI’s Grants Committee unanimously approved the five proposals received this month. The proposals were then reviewed by the WDI Executive Committee and approved for funding.

“Our committee was impressed by the number of applications that came in for this round of funding. All were solid projects and proposals. This recent round of grant approvals demonstrates the effectiveness of the FIG Program to help downtown businesses and property owners make needed repairs and upgrades to their storefronts, while also working to beautify the overall look and feel of downtown Wilmington,” said Holly Childs, WDI’s president and CEO.

A total of $12,500 in FIG funds has been allocated to businesses this fiscal year, the release stated. WDI officials want to disperse all of the grant funding this year, with just one $2,500 grant remaining.

The other businesses that received grants are:
  • Brooklyn Arts Center’s Ms. Cat’s Cottage, 516 N. Fourth St.: The applicant submitted for a $2,500 grant to cover costs of completed renovation work to the front of Cat’s Cottage. The project replaced the front porch, metal roof awning and windows and repaired wood siding and trim. Construction to the facade was part of a complete renovation of the home interior, back porch and surrounding property.
  • Taco Baby, 125 Grace St.: The applicant applied for a $2,500 grant to cover the costs of upgrades, repairs and artwork for the facade. Work included caulking, painting, and removal of a former signpost on the facade. This business also contracted with local artist Nathan Verwey to add a mural to the building to beautify the street and drive business to the new location while supporting the local Wilmington art scene.
  • Front Street Brewery, 9 Front St.: The applicant submitted for a $2,500 grant to aid costs in a future renovation and repair project for the front of the brewery. Construction will include stucco repair, cornice repair, painting and staining the facade. Some of the repairs are being made because of damage from Hurricane Florence in 2018. 
  • Better Basket, 143 N. Front St.: The applicant applied for a $2,500 grant to offset the costs of a recently completed facade restoration and rehabilitation project. The business owners restored metal tiles and awning and painted and sealed the facade. Owners also repaired gutters and replaced the rotting wood on the facade with old, reclaimed wood to match the look and feel of downtown Wilmington.

According to the release, FIG Program criteria include:
  • Awards for any building are for 50% of the total cost of the facade renovation project, up to a maximum grant of $2,500. Facades situated on a corner or through properties (facing two streets, or a street and an alleyway) are eligible for 50% of the cost of the renovation project for both facades, up to a maximum grant of $5,000.
  • Improvements funded under the FIG Program can include, but are not limited to: Removing stucco or similar non-historic siding; repairing or replacing cornices; repairing or replacing windows; repointing brick and masonry work and/or adding structural support to failing structures; when combined with other renovation work, repainting multiple building surfaces such as brick and masonry walls, exterior window frames, and other facade features; adding historically compatible materials or features to the front of a building; repairing or restoring transom windows; repairing or restoring original storefront features; and/or installing awnings and signs.
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