Improvement program proving popular

Funds available through the revamped Commercial Exterior Improvement Program are going fast this year.

The Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort increased the size of the grant program from $6,000 to $20,000 with the approval of the Sweet Home Economic Development Group Board of Directors, which provides the funds, in December.

Previously under the program, local businesses could receive up to $500 to pay for exterior improvement projects, said Carli Erickson, administrative assistant for SHEDG. Beginning this year, the program provides an additional $500 for Chamber of Commerce members for a total of $1,000. If local contractors are used, the business can receive up to 10 percent of the total cost of the project. For example, a $50,000 project could receive $5,000 in grant funds.

The program has no match requirement. Funds are reimbursed after work is completed.

So far this year, eight people have picked up grant applications, Erickson said. The SHARE Planning Committee has approved three. Last year, the program helped fund four projects, although one was funded in 2010. So far this year, the program has awarded $6,250.

“There’s a lot of potential with this program to build momentum for not only the downtown but greater Sweet Home,” said Brian Hoffman, economic development director. As the projects are identified and finished, he expects it to be a catalyst for further revitalization.

“The overall picture I see is making sure we strategically utilize these funds so it becomes that catalyst,” Hoffman said.

“If people are thinking about it, I would encourage them to come talk to us and see if we can move it up the priority list,” Erickson said.

Projects on tap this year include drainage, storefronts, paving, landscaping, signage, painting and an awning, Erickson said. All four of last year’s projects were signs, including Attitudes, South Santiam Salon, Funky Munky and LB Lock and Key. The program did not award all of the money available.

Cathy Walker took advantage of the program when moving Attitudes to a new location, at 13th and Long.

“With all the costs of a new location, it really helped me out,” Walker said. She moved the 20-year-old business the day after Christmas in 2008. She has owned Attitudes for about five years.

“It’s just a better location,” she said. “It’s cheery in here. Our customers love it €“ lots of windows and sunshine. We just love it.”

The sign was the final piece of “A new location, a new year and a new attitude,” she said.

“It was very valuable for me,” said Cheryl Greene, who owns South Santiam Salon, located at 13th and Main. “I plan to try it again this year.”

SHARE was fast, she said, and the application was easy to fill out.

“I couldn’t have one without that,” Greene said, especially as she faces the cost of roof repairs.

She has owned the business for two years.

Among this year’s projects is Joel Keesecker’s Solar Way building at the intersection of 12th and Main. The project includes siding and repairs.

“The façade program is a great program,” Keesecker said. “I received a grant for $500 a number of years ago for an awning.”

After a vehicle hit the front of the building last year, he started looking at the whole building, Keesecker said. In reality, it needed more than just paint.

He sat down with contractor Danny McCubbins and started looking at different ideas, Keesecker said. “He said, ‘This is what I was thinking.’ It was exactly what we were thinking.”

The front west and southwest corners are good examples of what the building will look like, he said.

Last winter, he talked to Mike Adams, who is chairman of the SHARE Planning Committee.

He told Adams that the $500 grants probably wouldn’t even cover permits, Keesecker said. Adams explained that the program was changing and encouraged him to apply.

The program is funding a little less than 10 percent of the total price, Keesecker said. “With any project is a lot of what ifs.”

A project is planned out, he said, and then unexpected costs pop up.

“All of the plans you made are changed,” he said. “They’re never changed for less. They’re always changed for more.”

The grant will help cover those changes and ensure that Keesecker can finish the project without spending more money than he has available to do it, he said.

“I hope it encourages other people to take advantage (of the program),” slowly improving Sweet Home building by building, Keesecker said,

“There’s some progress definitely,” he said, pointing to a variety of recent improvements, such as the Cornelius Building, which houses All-Star Pizza and Mr. Lucky’s Deli.

“There’s still a lot of empty buildings,” he said. “There’s just no tenants available.”

The owners of those buildings have low incentive to improve buildings without a viable tenant, he said.

The cooperation between the SHARE Planning Committee and the Chamber of Commerce is a big part of the jump this year, Erickson said. The chamber helps promote the program, while SHARE offers an incentive to join and strengthen the chamber.

“It’s an excellent idea,” said Andrea Culy, executive manager of the Sweet Home Chamber of Commerce. “What I see this as is a partnership between the SHARE committees and the Chamber of Commerce.”

“It’s a good example of what we’re trying to build into,” said Bruce Hobbs, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

When talking to prospective members, the chamber makes to sure to mention this benefit, Culy said. With the chamber and SHARE promoting the program, she believes it has generated tremendous response this year.

The program demonstrates the SHEDG board’s desire to support and get money back into the community, she said. “They didn’t even blink when the budget went from $6,000 to $20,000.”

For information about the project or to get an application, contact SHARE at 367-3061 or visit 1331 Main St. Suite B or contact the Chamber of Commerce at 367-6186 or visit the office at 1575 Main St.