Brookfield village trustees on Jan. 23 approved a new zero-interest loan program to assist business owners who want to replace their old signs.

However, the program as rolled out Monday differs somewhat from the program that initially had been contemplated by officials last fall in that only businesses within the village’s three tax increment financing (TIF) districts will be eligible for the pilot loan program, for now.

The loan program passed by trustees officially is called the Redevelopment Project Area Modernization Program, and defines the Ogden Avenue TIF, the Congress Park TIF and Eight Corner TIF as “redevelopment project areas” in need of revitalization.

While the plan originally had been to open up the pilot program to any Brookfield business, the village’s attorney apparently suggested limiting it to the TIF districts at this time, according to Nicholas Greifer, Brookfield’s director of community and economic development.

“It wasn’t a question of financing, but of our authority under statute to do so, that’s my understanding,” Greifer said. “It’s a pilot program, so we want to make sure to start small and then expand it.”

There’s no cap on the amount of money the village is planning to earmark for the loan program, but all of the costs associated with writing down the interest costs for the loans would be paid for or reimbursed to the village’s general fund from the individual TIF funds.

According to the village of Brookfield’s most recent available financial audit, the Ogden Avenue TIF has a fund balance of about $111,000 while the Congress Park TIF had a fund balance of roughly $283,000.

Brookfield’s village board created the Eight Corners TIF in late 2016, so it has not had time to create any fund balance yet.

According to the ordinance passed Monday, Brookfield will entertain sign loan requests on a first come, first served basis and that an unspecified “limited amount” of village funds will be set aside for the program.

Business owners in the redevelopment areas who would like new signs are eligible to receive a loan of up to $10,000, which can be paid back over a four-year period. The village is assuming that a $10,000 loan would come with interest costs of up to $1,000, which it has set as the maximum village subsidy on any loan.

“I’d be thrilled if we got five, six, seven, eight businesses to do this in year one,’ Greifer said. “I think our challenge will be to get businesses to participate. It’s not a huge subsidy.”

However, Greifer said the potential is there to establish an effective program to update business signage in the village. First National Bank of Brookfield has expressed interest in partnering with the village on the loan program, and they’re involvement is essential, said Greifer.

“The bank has personnel that are highly trained in loan reviews, and we’d benefit from that,” Greifer said. “We’ll have to sit down with [the bank] once the ordinance passes and see how to process the paperwork.”

Greifer said any business owner that wishes to apply for a sign loan would essentially go through a three-step process. First, the applicant would sit down with village staff and informally review the kind of sign being proposed.

The second step would be applying for a permit. Part of that step would be ensuring the sign conforms to existing zoning and signage standards. In the Congress Park TIF and on the far western end of Ogden Avenue, any signage would have to conform to standards included in the new Station Area District zoning code adopted by the village board earlier this month.

“We want to do something that’s not just bare minimums,” Greifer said of the permit review process. “We want to come up with something that’s aesthetically pleasing to both the business and the community.”

The third step in the process would be working directly with the bank to obtain a loan agreement, which would include the village’s write-down of the interest.