East Side Spruce Up

bferry@timesobserver.com

The City of Warren Planning Commission is raising the stakes in the plan to offer dollars to freshen up the city’s east side.

At the group’s meeting Wednesday morning, members proposed awarding grant dollars to projects rather than giving loans in the Eastside Gateway Renaissance Facade Improvement Program.

The money would require a 100 percent match; the property owner would have to put in $1 for every $1 in grant funding from the city.

“I think it’s a great incentive for folks to get some work done on the east side,” Chairman Don Nelson said. “I think it yields more payback in the long run.”

Commission member Bob Dilks suggested increasing the proposed maximum contribution from $5,000 to $7,500, an idea that found support with the other members.

New member Chuck Gray clarified that the $7,500 was a maximum and applicants could ask for less. Also, applicants would be welcome to undergo projects in excess of $15,000, but the maximum grant would still be $7,500.

The funding for the program would come out of an underutilized loan program – the Enterprise Development Fund – initially created for the downtown.

According to City Planner David Hildebrand, “We’re talking about carving out about $100,000 to go this direction.”

There is about $275,000 in the fund.

At the proposed levels, the program could leverage $200,000 in improvements over 13 or more projects.

The members do not object to a loan program, but with a goal of driving improvement, the grant program makes more sense.

“I don’t have a problem with a loan program,” Nelson said. But, “if it’s not going to yield what we want, it’s throwing seed onto stone.”

In the last 10 years, three loans were given out of the Enterprise fund, Hildebrand said, adding, “This money is basically stagnant.”

Originally, the fund contained state Department of Community and Economic Development dollars. Those funds carry limitations on what can be done with them, according to Hildebrand.

That has changed.

“This is our money,” Hildebrand said. “This doesn’t have all the strings attached.”

It could have some strings. “We could put handcuffs on how our money rolls out,” Dilks said.

There is a list of eligible projects that would qualify for gateway renaissance dollars including: awnings, exterior lighting, facade cleaning and painting, sidewalk repair and replacement, landscaping, and others.

“The grant is the absolute way to go,” commission member Pat Scutella said, “but we may not be able to do that.”

The whole plan is contingent on approval from other city entities.

The planners asked Hildebrand to take the proposal to Thursday’s Redevelopment Authority meeting and, if it meets approval there, the next step is city council.

Commission members do not expect to roll out the program in time for projects to begin in the 2014 construction season. “By the time we get everything done here we’re looking at September or October anyway,” Scutella said.