Grant to help West Bend improve downtown storefronts

By RALPH CHAPOCO - Daily News

Dec. 15, 2017

Kim Robertson of West Bend walks along South Main Street on Thursday afternoon near Collin's Deck Bar in West Bend. Collin's Deck Bar was one of the downtown business to take advantage of the Facade Improvement Grant for storefront use.
John Ehlke/Daily News

West Bend officials are preparing a process for assisting business owners and retailers who want to update the image they project to shoppers as they pass by.

The façade grant provides financial assistance to businesses located in the downtown that want to renovate and modify their storefronts, giving them a different look that will hopefully increase traffic and sales.

“I don’t know exactly how long it has been going on, but the intent of the program was to provide matching grant funds for business owners or property owners who are interested in improving the outside appearances to their buildings in the downtown,” said Kirk Emerich of the West Bend Economic Development Corp., the organization who oversees the program.

According to the program manual, only businesses located within the improvement district are eligible for the grant, and it further stipulates that funding is provided for only a prescribed set of improvements.

The manual includes store signage, the rehabilitation or compatible reconstruction of storefronts, masonry repair and repainting, as well as the restoration or replacement of deteriorated or hazardous sidewalks.

There are also a set of minimum requirements, including private investment. Applicants are required to contribute a portion of the funding for the project.

“The applicant must leverage a minimum of 60 cents per dollar per dollar of private funds for each 40 cents per dollar of grant funds requested, with a $5,000 project maximum invested by the Façade Grant Program,” the manual states.

The renovations must also attempt to preserve and promote the historical and architectural features of the building. The renovations must begin within three months of grant approval and be completed within a year.

The fund has about $37,000 available for recipients and be will be evaluated on the impact it will have for improving the downtown area, the amount of money that applicants are willing to contribute, the financial implications it will have for the program and how it will contribute to the community.

Moving forward, city officials will manage the program from the Economic Development Corporation. Emerich wants to transfer the program to members of Business Improvement District to manage and oversee.

“They have the manpower to manage it,” he said. “I don’t have any paid staff at the EDC.”

The details regarding the program and how it operates continues to evolve as West Bend staff are discussing the implementation process once the grant is within their control. There are any number of avenues officials could pursue, from allowing Improvement District members to control it to allowing it to become a city function and allow Economic Development Manager Adam Gitter to oversee the process.

“In my role, I manage the revolving loan fund, the downtown block grant programs, all those things that deal with giving businesses money is some way or another,” Gitter said. “When it comes to incentives, I am the one who is dealing with those things. If we (city officials) are going to be the ones facilitating that money anyway, why wouldn’t I also just take this over?”