WORTHINGTON — Less than a month after establishing a 2% loan program designed to encourage rehabilitation of commercial properties, the Worthington Economic Development Authority has approved another program aimed at incentivizing private reinvestment.
During its Tuesday afternoon meeting, the EDA approved the creation of the Facade Improvement Matching Grant Program for businesses to improve exterior, street-facing features of commercial buildings. The program will provide a higher level of support for downtown businesses, but will be available to any commercially zoned property in Worthington’s city limits.
“It’s a two-tiered program,” Worthington Assistant City Administrator/Economic Development Director Jason Brisson explained. “For any downtown business, they will be eligible for a 1-to-1 match up to $10,000. If you’ve got a $20,000 project, and you do the whole work and pay for it, we’ll reimburse you for $10,000, assuming that it qualifies.
“If it’s a commercial building anywhere else in the city, it’s a 2-1 match up to $5,000,” Brisson added.
He also noted that multiple types of businesses are eligible for a 1-to-1 match in any of the city’s commercial zoning districts: restaurants and bars; entertainment; hotels and lodges (motels, inns, etc.); breweries; distilleries; wine bars/wineries; souvenir shops and boutiques; night clubs; coffee cafés; museums, music venues or other arts and culture; and watercraft rentals.
“We want to put a small incentive out there to business owners to do the work (improvements) now,” Brisson said.
A greater emphasis is being placed on downtown businesses because it’s believed that a downtown with multiple improvements taking place at once will leave a positive impression on visitors to the community, Brisson shared. It’s part of a goal to make the downtown area — with Lake Okabena already in close proximity — an even more attractive place for tourists to visit.
“The goal … is to make downtown look enticing and beautiful,” Brisson said.
Individuals interested in taking part in the program should contact the city’s economic development office to discuss eligibility requirements. A meeting will subsequently be scheduled for a closer review of the planned project, which would then be followed by an application submission and participation agreement.
An EDA committee will review applications, with the final step being approval or denial by the EDA.
The new program is initially funded with $100,000 from the city’s revolving loan fund. Each year, depending on how much money is spent down from that total, the city will levy appropriately to return the sum back to $100,000. That way, Brisson said, a limit of 10 to 20 projects a year will take place, with the program operating on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Meanwhile, the Worthington EDA’s 2% loan program, approved and introduced in August, is already resulting in the development of a new downtown business, it was reported during Tuesday’s meeting.
Lauren and Jacob Weg plan to open Seed & Stem 12:27, a flower shop and boutique, in the 10th Street building most recently occupied by The Dance Academy. The Wegs intend to purchase the building, renovate the interior and open the business, it’s hoped, around the end of the year.
Downtown businesses currently defined as properties that are zoned B-2 (central business district), are eligible for the new 2% loan. Loans are available for up to $50,000, as long as there’s an equal bank loan.
“This was a perfect opportunity to try out the 2% loan program and see how it works out,” Brisson said. “The bank gets to lend less money than it originally thought it had to, it’s a good deal for the business owners because they now have reduced loan costs … and it also helps the city because a project that might not have gone forward now is.”
Brisson said conversations have also already taken place with two other people who are exploring the possibility of taking advantage of the 2% loan program for a downtown business project.
City staff will post the programs and applications to the economic development portion of the city’s website (ci.worthington.mn.us), distribute program materials to private lenders and realtors, and advertise both programs using existing city marketing channels. EDA staff also plan to send a direct mail letter to each business in the downtown business district promoting the programs to encourage local businesses to apply.