Elgin property owners consider façade improvement


Elgin property owners
consider façade improvement

By Brian Smith
Contributing Writer



Interested Center Street property owners met with representatives from MSA Professional Services and the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) on Tuesday, Sept. 10, to learn more about a façade improvement grant opportunity.

Stephanie Weisenbach from IEDA was on hand, along with Jim Holz and Chris Janson from MSA, to provide information and answer questions about the program that, if pursued, would allow business owners and the City of Elgin to work together in obtaining a grant. The grant would allow federal monies to be used to make improvements to the facades of privately owned buildings along Center Street.

“The state’s downtown revitalization program has awarded 32 grant applications in the last four years. Last year, there were 13 awards given out of the 16 applications that were received,” related Weisenbach, who is a project manager for IEDA.

Weisenbach added that previous grants were approximately $500,000 with local entities matching that amount. She estimated that there would be approximately $3 to $5 million available this year and expects anywhere from six to 10 grants to be awarded.

Typically, an application includes a slum-and-blight inventory of a designated downtown target area. This inventory identifies buildings that are in fair or poor condition and thus eligible for improvements. In order to receive a grant, there must be at least 25 percent of the buildings in the target area that have been found to be in fair or poor condition. There is also a minimum requirement of 12 buildings that must be involved in the program.

Once these things have been accomplished, general estimates on the work needed and the cost of the work would be gathered from architects and contractors. This information would then be provided to the City and the property owners. Eventually, signed commitment forms would also have to be gathered from those willing to participate in the program. All of this information would have to be recorded and included in the grant application.

“Guthrie Center formed a downtown revitalization committee when they began this process, and it helped them become organized and accomplish the tasks they needed to accomplish to complete their grant application,” explained Janson, who is a community development specialist with MSA.

If Elgin hopes to submit a grant application, it would have to act soon, as the deadline for submitting applications is Jan. 22, 2014.

“There is time to get this done, but you must act quickly if an application is to be completed and submitted on time,” cautioned Holz.

There were 11 Elgin community members in attendance at the meeting, representing nine businesses and buildings along Center Street. One question asked during the meeting concerned the types of improvements that would qualify for funding.

“Usually this would include windows, signage, tuck pointing, entryways, siding, and doors to name a few. It’s also important to note that federal regulations must be followed, as well as State Historical Society guidelines if the building is considered historical,” said Weisenbach.

Another inquiry was made about incorporating a theme with the improvements that would be made. While this is not a requirement for the program, it was pointed out that the City could adopt a theme if it so desired, as long as the theme did not violate any state or federal restoration requirements. 

Some in attendance were also concerned about the amount of information that is yet unknown and having to make a decision about their involvement. Weisenbach, Holz, and Janson assured property owners that they could show interest in the program, get estimates, and see the cost before having to sign a commitment form.

Downtown revitalization grants that are submitted this year will be awarded in April 2014. If Elgin were to submit a grant and be selected for an award, construction would more than likely begin in the spring of 2015. 

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