The Riverside Village Board earmarked $30,000 in 2017 for a new façade improvement program in hopes it would convince business owners in Riverside’s downtown district to invest in upgrades such as new signage, lighting, windows and awnings.
But almost six months into the year, the village has had no takers so officials have revamped parts of the pilot program to see if they can entice anyone into participating.
In response, the village board on May 18 voted unanimously to make changes to the program in order to see if that will kick start the effort to beautify downtown business facades.
“We’ve received a lot of inquiries regarding the façade improvement program,” Village Manager Jessica Frances told members of the village board at their May 18 meeting. “However, we have not received any formal applications.”
Under the terms of the program, business owners can qualify for a rebate of up to 50 percent of the total project cost, with a maximum grant amount of $5,000 from the village (and a $10,000 lifetime maximum per business). The village also required that business owners invest a minimum of $1,000 into the project, meaning the minimum match was $500.
The trouble is, said Frances, that not many people were interested in pursuing expensive projects. They might be interested in projects that didn’t reach the $1,000 minimum cost threshold, but business owners were also leery of a requirement that they receive three bids for the work.
“One of the struggles the businesses seem to be having is that they want a particular vendor to do the enhancement to the façade or the project scope is so small that they can’t find three individual, separate bids,” Frances said.
Village trustees agreed to adopt changes to the program recommended by Frances, including changing the bid requirement to allow business owners to submit just one bid for the work.
In addition, trustees agreed to lower the minimum cost for any façade improvement project to $500 (meaning a $250 minimum village match) to encourage businesses to apply for the grants.
The process for administering the grants is unchanged. Applications first go to the Community Development Department for review. The department then will make recommendations to the Riverside Economic Development Commission, which will review applications and recommend approvals.
The village manager would make final decisions on applications.