Façade grant program helps shape downtown signage

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British Pantry and Tea Garden Café. Photo by Jim Lincoln.

Economic development in the city of Tecumseh means not just bringing in new business, but also nurturing existing businesses. Economic Development Director Paula Holtz is committed to helping the downtown and its businesses to grow and stay viable.

“All of us would identify with the downtown as our core identity,” she said. “That’s where we want to see development.”

“If every community had an economic development, city council and city like Tecumseh, they wouldn’t have the vacancies,” said building owner Dan Meikle. “Tecumseh goes the extra mile.”

Holtz monitors grants available through state and local government so she can assist local businesses in the application process. Currently, she has been working with several building owners to update appearance or expand possible revenue.

The Downtown Development Authority provides façade grants for businesses to update signage or the outside of the building.

“The façade grant process is a locally funded grant. That is the easiest one to apply for because it’s money from the DDA,” Holtz said. “If businesses are within the downtown boundaries, they can receive up to $5,000 for façade work and up to $500 for signage. We have some pretty lenient criteria.”

“It was very very simple,” said Rochelle Bird, owner of the British Tea Garden and the building itself. “It’s not any long drawn out thing.”

Ed and Sherry Hall used a façade grant to update the brick front of their Carpet on Wheels building, and now are in the process of getting a Michigan State Housing Development grant. “Paula Holtz from the city made it super easy,” Hall said. “She did all the work for us.”

Meikle is also working to get a Michigan State Housing Development Authority grant for the James Masonic Block building. “Talking to Paula is key in this process,” he said. “She wrote the grant.”

Paula believes the city’s interaction with local business through her office provides a greater amount of control over the downtown’s appearance.

“The façade grant helps us to direct the kind of signage we would like to see downtown, pedestrian oriented and historically accurate,” said Holtz.

“For the rental rehab program we sent a letter out,” she said. “It’s a much more stringent process than façade grants. The rental rehab grant is actually a pretty thorough grant process. We were awarded the grant in August. We held our first meeting in May 2012.”

Rental rehab grants are only available to buildings with second or third stories not currently bringing in revenue. The city’s goal is to generate more money for owners with the addition of apartments in the upper levels of downtown businesses, improving owners’ cash flow. More people living downtown mean more activity and more people to buy from local businesses.

“Currently, there are some buildings are vacant on the second and third floor,” Holtz said. “We are prioritizing the projects we want to see.”

“It’s hard to pass up an opportunity,” Hall said. “We just had a vacant space that was unoccupied.”

Holtz works specifically in economic development for Tecumseh, which means she is able to devote time and research to what will benefit local businesses the most.

“We really try to leverage the resources from the state government. If there are opportunities with the state or federal government, we will be happy to pursue them,” said Holtz. “The city is the applicant to the state. I hope that we make it easy on the business. We really want to see a lot of private investment leveraged.”

“Look at the other communities in our county and they don’t have the dedicated individuals like Tecumseh,” Meikle said. “They don’t understand what it takes for businesses to thrive.”

Holtz said the city understands that upkeep on a building can be expensive for business owners. Her goal is to provide the support for owners to keep up with smaller repairs that keep major renovations from becoming a necessity.

“It’s really hard to make those numbers work,” Holtz said. “If we can, we help fill some of those gaps with grant programs. Every little bit helps.”

“It’s important to take advantage of every opportunity,” Hall said.

“We’re just very fortunate that we have a vital downtown,” said Bird. “It’s nice to know they care about us and help us out.”




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