After deciding against a similar program a year ago, the Riverside Village Board will slot $30,000 into the village’s 2017 budget to fund a façade improvement program for businesses in the downtown area.
The program, which would be administered jointly by the village’s Community Development Department and the Riverside Economic Development Commission, would reimburse businesses 50 percent of the cost for façade improvements, up to a total of $5,000. A business would be eligible to apply for up to a lifetime maximum of $10,000 in reimbursements.
And instead of simply pledging general operating funds toward the program, village trustees on Sept. 1 agreed to earmark a portion of the amount the village collects from its 1-percent places of eating and drinking tax for the façade program.
“It sends, I think, a powerful message to our business owners that we are considering this pot of money set aside for that purpose,” said Trustee Ellen Hamilton. “It sends a powerful message about what we’re planning to stand behind in assistance to our business owners.”
Trustee Joseph Ballerine suggested the use of the special sales tax revenue as a source for funding the façade program, saying it matches a tax imposed on certain businesses with a specific economic development purpose.
“At least what we’re doing is we’re taking that money and trying to drive business for the good of all the businesses,” Ballerine said.
According to a memo provided to trustees as part of the village board’s discussion on 2017 capital improvements at their Sept. 1 meeting, the types of projects eligible for the reimbursement program include signage; exterior lighting; improvements to windows, masonry and trim on the façade of a building; restoring historic features that had been altered; improving access; and painting.
The program is not meant to reimburse business owners for interior improvements, parking lot, roof repairs, window treatments or non-permanent features.
The memo states that business owners can apply for inclusion in the program by explaining the work proposed, submitting copies of estimates for the work and illustrations of the work to be completed along with a letter of support from the landlord, if the tenant is leasing the space.
Applications would be reviewed by village staff which would then submit a recommendation to the Economic Development Commission for review and approval.
The village and business owner would then enter into a memo of understanding and supply the village with receipts upon completion of the work for reimbursement.
Village President Ben Sells wondered whether restaurant owners might balk at earmarking the 1-percent tax for improvements to businesses that don’t pay the tax, but Ballerine argued that the money is already used for general operating expenditures with no connection to economic development per se.
“What do you think the restaurants think now?” Ballerine asked.
“The more people you have coming down the street in a good looking street area, the more business everybody’s going to have,” she said.