As spring continues to usher in warmer weather, workers will be out making improvements to Waterville and Fairfield business storefronts as part of special facade programs launched in each of those communities.

Area residents can expect to see workers installing new awnings, windows, lighting and business signs, painting outside walls and trim, re-pointing bricks, and making other improvements.

Bobby and Rachel McGee, owners of Selah Tea on Main Street in Waterville, stand on Friday behind a window of their restaurant. Selah Tea is a beneficiary of Waterville’s Façade and Building Improvement Grant Program. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

With help from Garvan Donegan, director of planning and economic development at the Central Maine Growth Council, Waterville developed its Façade and Building Improvement Grant Program and Fairfield launched  its Facade Improvement & Marketing Assistance Program.

While the programs are separate and slightly different, both seek to help businesses fund improvements designed to enhance the economic vitality and character of commercial districts while restoring the original character of historic buildings. Officials hope the improvements will help draw people to shop, live and work in Waterville and Fairfield.

Colby College and the Bill & Joan Alfond Foundation funded $60,000 for Waterville’s program, which offered 50-50 matches for downtown businesses wanting to make improvements to their buildings. For instance, a business owner wanting to spend $5,000 would get a $5,000 match, if eligible. Donegan said 23 applicants submitted proposals and 11 were accepted.

The grant awards are expected to stimulate more than $325,000 in direct investment in downtown storefronts and facades this year, according to Donegan.

William Epp, of American Glass, removes an old, 84-inch window Thursday from the Selah Tea Café in downtown Waterville. Photo by Bobby McGee

“We feel this direct investment has certainly achieved the goals we were looking to secure here,” he said.

Some businesses, such as Selah Tea Cafe, on Main Street downtown, have started making improvements already as part of the program.

Selah Tea owner Bobby McGee said Friday that the cafe’s 84-inch windows were replaced Thursday, new lights have been installed, and new decals will be placed in the windows. The trim on the cafe will be repainted, and a new awning also will be installed over Selah Tea as well as Black Cape Comics next door.

McGee said that all together, the cost of the improvements being made at Selah total $12,000 to $14,000. He said that the program provides a chance for businesses to spiff up their facades.

“So far, it’s been really easy and it’s been nice,” he said of the program. “It’s been great to have the opportunity to do some improvements to the property.”

Donegan said applicants have until the fall to complete their Waterville projects. Other businesses are planning for new awnings and signs. The building owned by Tap LLC at 129 Main St., at the corner of  Temple and Main streets, plans a large-scale redevelopment and facade redo, he said.

“This is bringing life into what had previously been a dormant facade program, with our hybrid spin on it,” he said.

Other businesses awarded grants for facade improvements are Framemakers, Amici’s Cucina, Enchanted Herbs & Teas, Children’s Book Cellar, SBS Carbon Copy, Holy Cannoli, Day’s Jewelers and Opa.

Donegan said officials anticipate growing the program in the future, and he hopes to do another round of proposals in November.

The facade program, he said, was established as Waterville is undergoing more than $100 million in investments by private and public entities working to revitalize the downtown.

Chris Gaunce, a businessman and member of the Façade and Building Improvement Grant Program, said in a news release that he thinks people will find themselves spending more time in downtown Waterville because it is inviting, attractive and unique.

“It’s incredibly exciting that, in the span of approximately seven months, downtown Waterville will be transformed by the visual impact of the awarded grants, which complement the transformation of public spaces, new building construction and influx of new businesses to the downtown,” Gaunce said.

In Fairfield, the program is not just for downtown businesses, but also for those located throughout the municipality, according to Town Manager Michelle Flewelling. She said $30,000 in funds from a gas pipeline tax increment financing district is available for businesses that apply for and are accepted into the program.

Bobby and Rachel McGee, owners of Selah Tea on Main Street in Waterville, pose for a portrait in their restaurant on Friday. Selah Tea is a beneficiary of Waterville’s Façade and Building Improvement Grant Program. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

That program provides grants or forgivable loans for up to 50 percent of the cost of facade improvement and marketing projects. Businesses may apply for $3,000 to $25,000, with a maximum match of $25,000, for the facade program and up to $3,000 for marketing assistance.

The town’s Economic and Community Development Advisory Committee’s facade improvement component includes, but is not limited to, preservation and restoration of original facades; removal of modern, nonhistoric alterations or additions already made to facades; window, door and trim replacement or repair; and new signs or awnings.

The marketing assistance component may include branding, digital and-or print advertisement, and signs. Applicants are required to submit a long-term marketing strategy.

Flewelling said Thursday that officials have been talking with businesses interested in the program, and she urges those who have questions to call or email her at the Town Office or to contact Donegan at the Growth Council. Applications are available on the town’s website at fairfieldme.com.

“We’re more than happy to talk to somebody about their project ideas,” Flewelling said.

She said anything the town can do to help promote its businesses is beneficial to both the businesses and the community.

“We have talked to quite a few businesses that are on Main Street and are interested, and some are working on getting applications together,” Flewelling said. “We’re also talking with at-home businesses. Our goal is to keep this going, year after year. We started with the $30,000 from the TIF district because it’s a starting point.”

Fairfield had a similar facade program that ended in 2011 and was funded with community development block grant money. Although the current facade program is municipally funded, that does not mean the town wouldn’t look for CDBG funds in the future, she said.

“The gas pipeline TIF has a relatively healthy balance in it, so we know we could keep this sustainable for a while,” she said.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 

 


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