A small portion of Port Huron’s millions in federal COVID stimulus funds may soon be livening up storefronts up and down Main Street with a host of newly OK’d façade grants.
It’s a move that both city officials and some business owners said they hope plays a role in the revitalization of and ongoing growth downtown, tackling costly projects that may have otherwise been put off or faced setbacks.
“We want to upgrade our building here because downtown has come back to life tenfold, and it’s just going to continue to do that, and it would be nice to freshen up our building before things really explode,” said Greg Whitican, owner of Elite Feet, 327 Huron Ave.
Theirs is among the more extensive projects and one of eight grant applications approved last week by the Downtown Development Authority.
There have been nine OK’d in all since City Council greenlit $100,000 in American Rescue Plan dollars last spring — the city received $18 million in funds total — allowing downtown businesses or property owners to ask for a 50% match up to $10,000 for exterior improvements. Another $75,000 will go toward outdoor seating downtown.
So far, officials said the requests have ranged from $2,000 up to the maximum for a variety of upgrades, including painting, new windows, and doors, as well as much larger facelifts.
And DDA Director Natacha Hayden said they still have just over half the funds left — enough for a couple more rounds of grant applications.
“We have a lot of projects they’ve had on their lists that they’ve wanted to tackle but haven’t been able to in the past,” she said.
Whitican said the grant will be “a great deal of help” with their project, which is set to cost “substantially more” than the maximum the DDA’s grant program allows.
Also on the Tuesday agenda for the Historic District Commission’s stamp of approval, those improvements include the replacement of rotting wood, shoring up the aging brickwork, a new window, some painting, and minor exterior demolition work.
“The hardest part was finding a contractor that had time to do the work,” Whitican said. “So, we’re going to start from the top to bottom on the store here, and hopefully, by next spring … just freshen everything up.”
'Old downtown buildings need a lot of TLC,' owner says
The $100,000 dwarfs previous funding pots made available for downtown façade projects.
Two downtown building owners referenced smaller efforts that funded a program also backed in partnership with the Community Foundation of St. Clair County.
In the last 10 years, Ed Brennan, the city’s finance director, said that fund paid out $53,000. Typically, he said the DDA allocated just $5,000 as part of it.
Officials said those efforts were still beneficial to businesses, though Hayden said smaller awards don’t always “help much when you’re doing work in a historic district.”
Jody Parmann, a DDA board member, said the Raven Café, which she co-owns, took advantage of the previous program to replace the bird figure on their historic storefront at 932 Military St.
They’re also using the current facade program, she said, but this time, to replace upper-story windows. They asked for $2,300 and were among the applicants approved last week.
Although their improvements are minor, or “more of a utilitarian sort of thing,” Parmann said the new grant effort could be generally stretched a little farther, calling a boost up to $10,000 “an incredible opportunity for anyone that owns a business or a building downtown.”
“I can tell you that old downtown buildings need a lot of TLC to look good and be safe,” she said.
Further up the block, other Military Street storefronts will get a boost, as well.
The Meter of America building, 920 Military St., was the first approved in July, spurring $4,100 of repainting efforts.
At 916 Military St., which hosts the Magic Hat Tattoo shop, building owner Michael Pracht said they’re replacing a wooden door with a glass and metal commercial one. His project is also on Tuesday’s Historic District Commission agenda.
A few years ago, Pracht said he “ripped out the entire bottom front” of his building as part of another façade project, and that’s when he put in the wooden door that now is “starting to come apart.”
The other façade grant applicants to get approval include:
203 Huron Ave., at the northwest corner with Quay Street
906 Military St., which hosts the Exquisite Corpse Coffee House
628 Huron Ave., Casey's Pizza and Subs
321 Huron Ave., where the new Mexican restaurant, Senor Tequila, is slated to open.
Hayden said depending on how well the façade effort goes, she was open to exploring other options in the future to finance grants.
Contact Jackie Smith at (810) 989-6270 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Jackie20Smith.
This article originally appeared on Port Huron Times Herald: COVID funds will finance facelifts for downtown Port Huron storefronts