By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — City planners have their sights set on the West Railroad Avenue corridor as the first beneficiary of recent changes to a grant program designed to help business owners spruce up the outside of their buildings.
The fašade improvement program put in place in 2009 capped city grants at $10,000.
But a change approved last week lets the city exceed the cap for individual businesses in a predesignated redevelopment area.
City Council members voted 5-0, with Mayor Cherie Kidd and Councilman Max Mania absent, Tuesday to approve the program changes and set Railroad Avenue as this year's redevelopment area.
Business owners partipating in the program must put up at least half of the estimated cost of such improvements such as window or door renovation and new awnings or landscape features.
If their grant application is approved, the city will provide matching funds, said Nathan West, the city's community and economic development director.
Outside the redevelopment area, the cap is $10,000. Within the area, the city has the option of providing more money.
Redevelopment areas most likely will change on yearly basis, West said.
“We really want to ensure we're able to address entire [city] areas to coincide with other investment,” West said.
West said that the Railroad Avenue corridor was chosen because of the $3.9 million esplanade project, which will widen sidewalks and extend a concrete promenade over the water.
This means businesses abutting Railroad could potentially get more than $10,000 from the city for facade upgrades, West explained, as long as city planners are involved in the design of the improvements.
West said staff wants to make sure the improvement designs are consistent with whatever larger private or public investments are going on.
“[The city will] literally want to be at the table with architects as they go through the design process,” West said.
Asked if he thought this requirement would turn away businesses, West said business owners would likely welcome input from city staff.
West made clear that although city staff will reach out to businesses in a redevelopment area about fašade upgrades, such work is not mandatory.
“This is very much a voluntary program and a voluntary grant opportunity,” he said.
“We're not going to twist anybody's arm into doing a project.”
West said city staff have not yet determined how they will contact businesses about submitting grant applications, although they want to start soon.
Tom Curry, who runs the Barhop Brewery along Railroad Avenue, said he thinks the redevelopment focus is a good move, especially given the esplanade work.
“It makes sense the city would want to see the fašades improved down there, along the corridor,” Curry said.
Though Curry leases his building and could not make fašade improvement decisions himself, he said he could envision a deck and outdoor eating area added to his shop front.
Curry said, however, his business cannot chip in for such improvements right now.
“I probably am not in the position to invest in the fašade,” Curry said.
Bob Stokes, who leases a building along Railroad, just east of North Laurel Street that once housed Paul Labrie's Blowhard Glass Gallery, said he is supportive of the program but that he wouldn't be applying for any grants right now.
“I think it's a good program, don't get me wrong, I just don't have a need for it right at this moment,” Stokes said.
Since the program's inception in 2009, the city has given $117,000 in spegrant funds to 12 completed projects and five currently under way, West said.
That money joined a total of $326,840 paid by business owners for their own fašade improvements, city Assistant Planner Roberta Korcz said.
Proposals for fašade improvements are reviewed and approved by the city's planning commission, West said, adding that the city has received 36 applications since 2009.
For more information on the application process, contact Korcz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.