By Bob Uphues
Hoping to attract more business and commercial property owners to take advantage of its façade improvement grant program, the Riverside Village Board in January voted to expand the pool of potential qualifiers.
In 2018, the program is open to owners and tenants of commercial properties who have rear facades that face the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks.
Sonya Abt, the village's community development director, said while her department has not received any official applications for rear façade improvements, she has heard informally that at least one East Burlington Street business has expressed interest in such an improvement.
The 2013 comprehensive plan for Riverside's central business district called for improving landscaping and encouraging art along the rail line. Providing funding for façade improvements is in line with those planning goals.
In addition, the village board removed a prohibition against awarding the grants to business owners who are tenants in buildings where there are active property maintenance and zoning violations.
While opening the grant program to those businesses, however, village trustees said they wanted it to be clear that the intent wasn't to give handouts to scofflaw property owners.
"I'm 100 percent against us giving any money to do any improvements to any building that's a code violation, unless it's a sign," said Trustee Joseph Ballerine during a discussion of amending the program parameters on Jan. 18. "But I'm not going to replace windows in a building, doors in a building, whatever."
Ballerine's statement came in light of the village receiving an application from Prehop Cleaners at 9 Longcommon Road, which leases space in a building with a history of code violation issues.
In 2015, the village sued the building's management company in order to force installation of a new fire alarm system after the building went for more than a year without functioning fire alarms. The building houses a mix of commercial and residential tenants.
Last summer, the storefront at 7 E. Burlington St. had to be closed for about a month after a portion of the brick facade came crashing to the ground.
Prehop Cleaners wants to remove two unsightly box signs (one each on the west and north facades) and install window awnings bearing the name of the business on them. The existing signs at Prehop Cleaners do not conform to the village's sign code, which was revised, outlawing box signs, in 2015.
The estimated total cost of the work and materials is $6,000, Abt said. The business can apply for the village to pay half of the cost. The maximum amount the village will cover for any one façade improvement project is $5,000.
The Riverside Economic Development Commission is expected to make a recommendation on Prehop's application at their meeting in March.
Riverside earmarked $30,000 in its 2017 budget for the façade improvement program, but received just two takers last year – the owners of Riverside Foods and the owner of the building housing Quincy Street Distillery.
Between the two businesses, Riverside contributed about $7,000 to those improvement projects.