Town commissioners voted unanimously at their meeting Monday, Oct. 3, to approve a matching grant program designed to encourage nonprofits to make efforts to enhance downtown.
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.
“Rather than just be a handout,” Town Manager Joe Moore said, “it’s meant to energize downtown. It’s a way to get people excited and working downtown.”
The program is designed to encourage community engagement, especially among the existing commercial community, in establishing design guidelines, Moore said, as well as to facilitate pedestrian access and create temporary and permanent public gathering places downtown.
“Nonprofits typically are looking for projects,” Moore said, “and if they know the town is looking for partnerships they are more likely to step forward.”
Improvements in already-developed areas such as downtown have a greater effect on net tax revenues than building on undeveloped property, Moore said, because the infrastructure – such as roads, water and sewer and police and emergency services – is already in place. When construction takes place in undeveloped areas, the town must provide the new infrastructure, which eats into the net tax return to the town.
“If you’ve got a vital downtown,” Moore said, “you’re going to see increased property values and, as a result, increased property tax revenue and sales tax revenue, and that revenue supports services. There’s a symbolic reason as well. A downtown is a historical representation of where a community came from. In any community, if you let go of downtown you’re letting go of your identity.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Don Bumgarner said the council had been discussing the program since the town’s retreat in early March. “I think it’s a fantastic program,” he said, “It will enhance the downtown area. The downtown area has been an area of concern not only for the board but for just about the whole town. We’re doing just about everything we can do to enhance the downtown area.”
The program is one of several the town has been working on in recent months to boost downtown. Moore said the board would be considering a grant program to assist downtown property owners with facade preservation and restoration and a downtown development board that would develop design regulations that take into account the older buildings and aging infrastructure of downtown.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826