A new matching grant offered by the town was tapped for the first time this month after a proposal by the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce and Zebulon Woman’s Club.
Those groups jointly applied and gained approval for a streetscape matching grant to purchase a commercial-grade Christmas tree to use for Zebulon’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, starting next year.
“The last two years, the Zebulon Public Works Department has worked closely with the chamber of commerce and woman’s club to host the downtown tree lighting ceremony,” Public Works Director Chris Ray said at the Dec. 5 Town Board meeting, speaking on behalf of the applicants.
In another report that same night, Denise Nowell of the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce said the Dec. 3 caroling and tree lighting drew 60-80 people to downtown.
“This past (weekend) we saw a significant growth in the number of participants that attended this event,” Ray said. “We feel like this is the time now to try to expand on this program. We’d love to see this program grow and we feel like purchasing a new, larger, commercial tree is the way to go with this process.”
The new tree will be 14 feet tall with an 8-foot-wide base, assembled in 10 panel sections and topped with a 4-foot star. Its total price tag is $3,900.50.
“I think it’s important to note publicly that this tree is expected to have a minimum life of 10 years,” said Mayor Bob Matheny. “That looks like a lot of money for a Christmas tree, but (not) when you look at it in that kind of lifespan.”
Ray said it isn’t uncommon for trees of this caliber to last as many as 15 years.
Under the streetscape match policy, the town would provide half the cost of an approved project, not to exceed $1,000, when partnering with one nonprofit organization. If two or more nonprofits collaborate on a project with the town, the town’s participation would be limited to the proportional share of the cost, not to exceed $2,000.
The town included $10,000 for the program in the budget for this fiscal year.
“This will leave $8,099 left in the budget for other people to come and participate,” Ray said.
For the town
The nonprofits were given relief from a portion of the grant policy requiring applicants to pay for projects upfront and be reimbursed later by the town for its share of the match.
They instead provided checks, each worth $1,000, asked that the town pick up the remaining balance of $1,900.50 and purchase the tree directly – since it was their intention that the tree be owned, stored and installed annually by the town.
Commissioners budgeted for the program in June and adopted the streetscape match policy in October.
The program is one of several the town has been working on in recent months to breathe new life into the downtown area. Town leaders in November reviewed guidelines for a proposed facade improvement grant program for downtown properties that will soon go before the board for final consideration.