Façade programs are popular in part because they provide immediate and substantial impact that is visible to the public. As effective as these programs are, the field is littered with façade programs that are poorly designed and therefore go underused. The literature suggests that effective façade improvement programs include some or all of the following characteristics:
- Be sure you are providing at least a 50 – 75% match – the higher match is necessary in districts where business owners are struggling and may lack the capital necessary to meet their match requirements.
- Because most public programs are set us a reimbursements – it can sometimes be difficult to get facade money out the door. Property owners simply do not have the capital necessary to front the entire cost of the renovation and then wait to be reimbursed after the fact. In cases like this, patient capital is critical. A bridge loan or revolving loan program can help to address the lack of capital for property owners unable to front renovation costs. Non-profit lenders and community development intermediaries might be good partners in exploring these kinds of loan products.
- If there are significant reporting requirements that cannot be simplified, the match has to be significant enough to make the application and paperwork worth it. Otherwise, most business owners won‘t want to deal with the hassle. The amount considered significant will differ by community, but the literature suggests anything form $25 – 50k is generally sufficient. And the smaller the individual grant, the easier they should be to use (read: minimal paperwork!)
- If there are vague or no design guidelines, the program should include pro-bono or low-bono design services. When improvements go unsupervised are lack some sort of quality review, it can be difficult to determine when and where façade improvement dollars were used, rendering the overall impact on the shopping district negligible.
|Blade signs along Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, NY,
funded by micro-grants to local businesses
- If funding is limited, consider micro-loan programs for signage only. For $2,500 – $5,000, you can fund attractive signs that make a significant difference to the overall look and feel of the district. I just love these blade signs along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn (see photo above). The local merchants association provided microgrants to businesses for these wonderful blade signs. Pedestrian can easily tell what stores there are from a distance – and they look great!