BERLIN – Revitalizing Berlin’s downtown is not just about attracting high-quality businesses, it’s about first-class, attractive buildings to house those businesses in, supporters say, a goal the town hopes to make progress toward with a state grant to make building façade improvements.
The money to kick start the desired aesthetic improvements could come from a State of Maryland Community Legacy grant.
The town’s new economic development director and director of its Main Street Maryland program, Michael Day, said that he had applied on behalf of the town for $80,000 in grant funds for those façade improvements.
The program funnels the money to property owners, who must match the grant funds they receive dollar for dollar.
The idea, said Day, is to encourage property owners with seed money from the state. “It’s a carrot,” he said.
Participating property owners in Ocean City have raised the bar considerably since the award-winning façade improvement effort began in the resort.
Ocean City is considered a model façade improvement program with property owners matching each grant dollar with as much as $6.
Since 2003, Ocean City has seen 57 commercial facades renovated, and 11 residential, with a total amount, in public and private funds, of $3 million spent.
“It’s turned out to be a fabulous program, probably our best redevelopment program,” said Glenn Irwin, director of the Ocean City Development Corporation. “We’re really pleased with the results.”
Irwin said the façade improvements have made the resort’s downtown area more attractive to new business and development because the area looks better.
The program covers a broad array of exterior improvements with the Ocean City program concentrating on siding, windows, signs and areas that can be seen by passersby, Irwin said.
“We’re trying to get the street level experience, creating that attractive pedestrian experience,” said Irwin.
People improving a building’s front also tend to find the money to improve the back and sides at the same time, Irwin said.
“We’ve seen a number of building owners that basically do a complete renovation,” Irwin said.
Day said he hopes to build the program in Berlin to that level over the next few years. “We do need some improvements,” he said.
Some of those improvements should be green oriented, Day said, such as more energy efficient windows.
Merchants, as well as residents, were negatively impacted by high electric bills last year, but if the situation were to reoccur, more energy efficient buildings would reduce the effect on downtown business operations.
Green improvements would be a main criteria in distributing the funds, according to Day.
Community Legacy funding is not guaranteed. According to Day, the Community Legacy grant program received 170 letters of intent from jurisdictions planning on applying for funding.
Total requests by that preliminary count came to $30 million, but the Community Legacy program only has $4.2 million to distribute and is keeping $420,000 in reserve.
“It’s highly competitive,” said Day.
The good news, according to Day, is that the town of Berlin has never been awarded a Community Legacy grant.
“We’ve never gotten one and they like to spread the money around,” Day said.