City of West Bend takes over grant to improve downtown store fronts

By RALPH CHAPOCO - Daily News Staff

Jan. 11, 2018

 Perry Randall takes a walk along the Milwaukee River while on his lunch break Wednesday afternoon in West Bend.
 John Ehlke/Daily News

West Bend business owners and retailers who want to improve or upgrade the appearance of their store fronts can petition city officials for the necessary funding.

Common Council members voted to approve a measure during Monday’s meeting authorizing city officials and staff to manage the facade improvement grant that was previously overseen by representatives from the West Bend Economic Development Corp.

“The West Bend EDC currently has the facade improvement grant, and they had approached the city in the Downtown Business Improvement District to do is take over the management of the facade improvement grant,” Economic Development Manager Adam Gitter said.

Rather than instituting a two-step process where applicants would approach members of the Improvement District and the eventually the city, Gitter recommended that city staff and officials oversee the program and make the decisions regarding the award.

According to the updated manual, the purpose of the grant is to “preserve, enhance and restore the historical and architectural significance of buildings” in the area.

The fund has $37,000 procured by members of the Economic Development Corp.

The measure was introduced by Kirk Emerich, president of the Economic Development Corporation, who said he wanted another organization to oversee the funds and manage the grant process.

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

Gitter included a program manual as part of his presentation, highlighting aspects of the program that include the eligibility requirements, evaluation criteria and the amount of money applicants can receive if they are provided an award.

“In general, this is a matching grant,” Mayor Kraig Sadownikow said. “It is not a revolving loan, so if the owner comes up with at least $10,000, we would consider granting an equivalent amount.”

The manual states that applicants must leverage 60 cents per dollar of private funds for every 40 cents per dollar of grant money requested. It also stipulates a maximum award of $5,000, but Gitter has indicated there could be flexibility with that threshold.

“I have made some changes to include the Barton Historic Commercial District,” Gitter said.

In the previous version of the manual, only retailers in the downtown area were eligible for a potential award. The manual indicates that applications will be evaluated based on the cost of the cost and sustainability of the project, it’s contribution to the community, as well as the amount of private investment the applicant can obtain. The projects that can secure a higher level of private contributions will be more favorably viewed.

The manual states funding is available for retailers to improve their signage, window repair and replacement, sidewalk and restoration or replacement, as well as masonry or awning upgrades.

Priority for the award will be based on the eligibility of the applicants, the size of the grant request, the completeness of the application and other factors.

“I see some wording that you have got for the backs of the buildings, at least for the BID District, which I think is great,” Sadownikow said. “As we continue to improve the river, it would be nice to encourage folks there.”