New city Commercial Exterior Program aims to put face on economic development

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council last week unanimously approved a new Commercial Exterior Program.

Voting to approve the program during the council’s regular meeting on May 22 were Bob Briana, Susan Coleman, Diane Gerson, James Goble, Lisa Gourley, Dave Trask and Mayor Greg Mahler.

The decision created rules allowing commercial property owners to access city funding to improve the exteriors of commercial buildings in Sweet Home.

Funding for the program is available through approximately $200,000 allocated for economic development projects in the fiscal 2017-18 budget, which ends June 30.

“It’s been needed for a long time,” Briana said. “The city needs a face lift.”

“I’ve had some conversations with downtown owners, and this is a win-win,” Mahler said. It’ll stretch the dollar “to better our community.”

City Manager Ray Towry said he expects two or three immediate applicants, and he doubts the city will spend even $15,000 prior to the end of the fiscal year.

City staff has participated in meetings with a coalition of economic development stakeholders, said Community and Economic Development Director Jerry Sorte in the request for council action. The group has formed around the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort, and meetings regularly include representation from the School District, Chamber of Commerce, Sweet Home Economic Development Group, Linn-Benton Community College Small Business Development Center, U.S. Forest Service, the city and interested citizens.

SHARE identified a program like this as the place to start in order to encourage business owners to improve the exteriors of their buildings, Sorte said. “The purpose of this program is to increase the aesthetic quality of Sweet Home’s business districts in order to attract customers, visitors and prospective business operators to Sweet Home.”

SHEDG previously funded a similar program seven years ago through SHARE, using proceeds from the Oregon Jamboree, an annual three-day country music and camping festival.

Under the new program, a grant review committee will review applications and make a recommendation for approval or denial to the city manager or his designee.

Eligible businesses may qualify for a matching grant of 50 to 75 percent of the cost of the project retroactively to Jan. 1.

Grant amounts will be limited to $5,000 unless, based on findings by the committee, the mayor and city manager, the “improvements that would result in exceptional public benefit.”

Funds will be reimbursed after completion of the approved project.

Eligible improvements include handicap-accessibility projects, new or replacement awnings, facade enhancements, parking lot improvements, landscaping and replacement business signs.

Under the program requirements, facades must complement adjacent structures, providing a harmonious composition of masses, materials, colors and textures. Lighting and fixtures should be of a design and size compatible with the building and adjacent areas.

Components like windows, doors, eaves and parapets, should have “appropriate proportions and relationship to one another.”

The design should obscure mechanical equipment and utility hardware where feasible.

Signs should be part of the architectural concept, with the size, material, color, lettering and location in harmony with the building design; and the number of signs shall be minimized.

Most projects are eligible for 50 percent funding. They may be matched at 75 percent for handicap-accessibility projects, for facade enhancements consistent with approved options and for improvements to the pedestrian environment, such as sidewalks, walkways, public plazas, code compliance, lighting, rot repair, masonry cleaning, rain gutter and downspout repair and new siding.

Grants are limited to $5,000 per year except by the approval of the city manager upon the recommendation of the grant review committee and availability of funds.

The five-member grant review committee is appointed by the city manager and includes one city councilor, a representative of the Chamber of Commerce and three members engaged in local economic development efforts.

City staff is still working with the Oregon Cascades West Council of Governments to determine if and how the COG can assist in the implementation of the program, Sorte said. Doing so may require the council to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the COG.

Applications are available at City Hall, 1140 12th Ave., the city’s website under the Community and Economic Development Department and the Chamber of Commerce, 1575 Main St.

For more information, call the Community and Economic Development Department at (541) 367-8113.

In other business, the council:

– Approved a resolution declaring a John Deere mower surplus, allowing the sale of the mower.

– Agreed to contract with Grove Mueller & Swank for $27,000 to audit the city’s 2017-18 financial records. The city has contracted with the auditor annually since 2001.