Changes recommended for grants
New London hopes more stores use city’s façade improvement funds
By Robert Cloud
The Economic Development Committee voted Tuesday, Aug. 31, to recommend changes to the city of New London’s downtown business façade improvement grant.
City Administrator Chad Hoerth asked the committee to consider two amendments to the grants’ current requirements in order to encourage more businesses to apply for the grant.
The program provides 50% matching funds of up to $2,000 for exterior building improvements in downtown New London.
The city administrator awards the grants on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Eligible activities include exterior façade renovations, signage, awnings, code enforcement, structural exterior repair, exterior building infrastructure such as plumbing, electrical, roofing and cabling.
The two proposed changes Hoerth recommended were to expand the program’s boundaries and to allow businesses that have already made improvements to backdate their applications in order to qualify.
New London set aside $25,000 for the facade improvement grants in 2021. So far this year, the city has not awarded any of the grants.
“I’ve gotten one application this year and that was from the Bottle Shop, which wasn’t eligible,” Hoerth said.
The liquor store is not eligible because it is located at 303 S. Shawano St., outside the program’s boundaries.
The grants are available to any New London property on either side of North Water Street between McKinley Street on the west and the county line on the east.
Businesses are eligible on both sides of Pearl Street from Waupaca Street on the north to Beacon Avenue on the south.
Hoerth said he was aware of at least three other exterior refurbishing projects in or near New London’s downtown area that did not apply for a grant because they failed to meet the deadlines.
Under current guidelines, downtown businesses must apply within 30 days before starting the project.
Some businesses were located within the program boundaries, but did not apply because they were not aware of the grants.
Hoerth said backdating the grants for projects already completed will encourage future projects and use the funding as it was intended.
Student committee member Alaena Wolf, who also owns a candy shop in downtown New London, said she thought allowing businesses to backdate grant applications would be good “because I think that helps promote businesses to also want to improve their building if they hear other businesses are getting money for the improvements they did.”
Noting that the businesses on Pearl and North Water streets have had the opportunity to apply for the grants for years, Hoerth asked, “Is it time to look at expanding those boundaries and give other people the opportunity to apply for the grant.”
Mayor Mark Herter and Ald. Fred Zaug indicated their desire that the grant money go to locally owned small businesses.
Regarding the state and federal the covid grants, Herter said, “Large corporation sucked that money dry right away.”
Zaug noted the difference between a locally owned small business, such as Jolly Rogers Pizzaria, and a franchise, such as Domino’s Pizza.
To determine which businesses were locally owned and which were part of larger chains would require a review process that some property owners would consider “red tape,” thereby discouraging them from applying for the grants.
After much discussion, the committee agreed to recommend new boundaries for the grant program.
The proposed western boundary runs along McKinley Street between the railroad tracks in the north and the river in the south.
South of the river, the boundary runs along West Wolf River Avenue between Oshkosh Street and about 500 feet west of Werner-Allen Road.
The boundary continues south on Oshkosh Street to West Spring Street, then east to Smith Street, then south again to Beacon Avenue, then east to Pearl Street, north to North Water Street, where it follows the curves around the Embarrass River until it reaches the tracks again.
The committee voted unanimously in favor of the motions to expand the boundaries and to allow businesses to backdate their grant applications to Jan. 1, 2021.
The motions now go to the New London Common Council for final approval.
New London’s Economic Development Committee recommended boundary changes for a program that provides matching grants to businesses for facade improvements. Image courtesy of the city of New London