PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city is launching a facade improvement program to help owners of Tyler Street businesses spruce up their storefronts.
The City Council accepted a $30,000 grant from MassDevelopment's Transformative Development Initiative to pilot the program. The pilot will be providing commercial building owners with an incentive for the improvements such as lighting, windows, and doors.
The city will be using $30,000 of 40R funds — funds previously provided to the city through an affordable housing incentive by the state — to match those funds. In the first year, the pool of money is estimated to assist in the renovation of four or five storefronts.
"Out of the 10 TDI fellows and programs that are ongoing, we are the only one that doesn't have a storefront facade program," interim Community Development Director Bonnie Galant told the Council.
A business can apply for as much as $15,000 from the combined revenue funds for a project. The building owner, however, is required to fund at least 20 percent of the total project.
Galant is also looking to place restrictions on ownership of the building for a number of years — so an owner can't take the money and then immediately sell it.
"We were thinking of doing either a five or 10 years deferred payment loan, where we'd put a lien on the building in case something happens," Gallant said.
The ins and outs of the program haven't been fully fleshed out as of yet. Galant said she has been currently looking at similar programs elsewhere in the state to craft the guidelines.
"We've got examples of other communities that already have storefront facade programs," she said.
Facade programs have been successful in triggering private investment in numerous community in the Berkshires. The town of Adams put much emphasis on that program in the past and it led to renovations and private investment in numerous storefronts on Park Street. Years ago the Pittsfield had something similar through Downtown Pittsfield and local banks for North Street, but it was eventually phased out.
The goal of such a program is to eliminate blight and make the area more attractive, which in turn will spur even more private investment. Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said the program will be combined with a future lighting and streetscape project, which together will lead to redevelopment of the corridor.
"This is something I am very excited about and will be supporting it," Morandi said.
The city's Morningside area was approved to be one of TDI districts in late 2014. Shortly after, the city was one of just a few to be appointed a fellow. Amewusika "Sika" Sedzro was brought on and is now entering her second year heading the redevelopment effort.
The first year was mostly planning focused and slowly more and more programs are being rolled out. The efforts range from as seemingly small as painting murals to working with developers to renovate key properties along Tyler Street. There are programs being planned to help homeowners and landlords improve the housing stock. And there are plans to increase the number of bus stops.
Overall, the program is a concentrated focus on one specific area to direct highly focused development efforts.
The facade program is only part of the overall efforts and is also a pilot. If the program works out well, the city would be looking to create a more permanent storefront improvement program.
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