| The Daily Herald
Columbia’s historic downtown has remained the city’s greatest economic generator for businesses, tourism, restaurants and entertainment, and it is about to receive a fresh upgrade.
Thanks to a $100,000 Community Development Facade Improvement Grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, 17 downtown businesses will receive funds to allow restorations and updates to their current buildings. This was the fourth time the city has applied for the grant, this being the first to see approval, which was the maximum amount.
Money from the grant will be distributed to applicable local downtown businesses through a City of Columbia Facade Grant Process in partnership with the South Central Tennessee Development District. The awards range from $1,500 to $10,000 per sub-recipient business, and are designated to encourage the property and business owners within the downtown commercial district to enhance their building’s exterior, as well as upgrading their business’ branding and identity.
The grant money would cover approximately 75% of the total project cost, with the business or property owner contributing the additional 25%.
“Take for example a project where the total construction cost is $10,000,” Assistant City Manager Thad Jablonski, also the city’s Finance Director and City Recorder, said. “The grant will fund $7,500 of that, and the downtown local business will contribute the additional 25%, or $2,500. The timing really couldn’t be better when you consider the impact COVID-19 has had on our local businesses, and so we want to roll this thing out as quickly as possible, because it’s one other way we can support our local downtown business community.”
At the heart of the project, however, is an effort to restore the original character of downtown Columbia’s many historic buildings, preserving them for future generations and as a lasting landmark for the city’s continued growth.
“In a historic downtown district such as ours, we must never cease in our efforts to ensure the buildings remain intact for the next generation to enjoy,” Mayor Chaz Modler said. “This facade grant will assist greatly in those efforts.”
The city initially received approval of the grant in April. The Facade Grant Program began soon after via a live webinar hosted by the city, which was attended by several participating local businesses, property owners and other prospective applicants.
The grant’s Selection Committee met June 25 to evaluate the applications, approving 100% of those who applied. Twelve of these were later presented to the Historic Zoning Commission on Aug. 13, all of which were approved, with applicants receiving their respective notifications earlier this week.
“Once again, our community benefits from a partnership with our state and regional partners. I am happy for each business who will receive financial assistance to help improve their facade, which will result in an enhanced downtown district. And, I am grateful to our partners at the state and the South-Central Tennessee Development District who continue to work with us as we seek to move the City of Columbia forward in a positive direction. Kudos to our Historic Zoning Commission for their efforts in the application process.”
The downtown facade improvements will take place over a multi-phase process, with the first round consisting of 17 properties.
◆ Muletown Roasted Coffee
◆ GM Properties
◆ Flag World
◆ aMuse’um Children’s Museum
◆ Ganser Building
◆ Ted’s Sporting Goods
◆ McEwen Real Estate Group
◆ Cowork Columbia
◆ Robeson Building
◆ Sands & Richardson
◆ Red 7 Pizza
◆ Puckett’s metal building on E. 7th Street
◆ Southern Tre Steakhouse
◆ former Salon South building
◆ former Emporium building
◆ Boys & Girls Clubs of Maury County
Construction is set to begin in September, and Jablonski said he expects projects to be completed in about six months. He also does not expect them to create much of a hinderance to drivers and pedestrians as it occurs.
“The improvements range anywhere from new lighting to awnings, paint. We have a couple of innovative projects that you will see from the range of applicants,” Jablonski said.
”Everyone is going work on their own timetable as they are able to do it, and as it relates to their own business. The grant term is a two-year contract, and so we’re hopeful that most of these projects can be completed within six months, although a few might have a little more happening within that scope. Once we get to that point, we can come back and start looking at a second round.”
He added that one of the projects he is most excited in seeing completed is the Puckett’s metal building on E. 7th St. Its plans include reconstructing the metal exterior to create a brick facade. This will not only be more aesthetically pleasing, but keeps in the character of other properties leading east toward Woodland Street and Columbia’s historic Motor Alley.
“Here’s a great example of how this program can spur needed investment downtown where it might otherwise not happen for years, if at all,” Jablonski said. “They want to do a full-front brick facade, and if you think about that transition from the downtown square to the improvements that have been made on Woodland Street and Motor Alley, that transition will be so much more aesthetically pleasing. The options that Puckett’s will have as far as what to do with that real estate, those will change tremendously when you consider a full three-sided brick facade. It’s a really neat project.”
The projects will also create a tremendous return on investment, more than double to be exact. It is also another example of how Columbia continues to strive forward in helping its local businesses, while continuing to find ways to grow and prosper without using taxpayer money in the midst of a pandemic.
“As anticipated, we are seeing an increased return on investment using state grant dollars here in Columbia,” Jablonski said. “The Facade Grant Project allocates $80,408 in grant funds for the first round of improvements. The investment in downtown facade improvements totals more than $210,000, which is more than twice the amount of grant funds for the first round of projects. out of all, we are pleased to be in a position to aid downtown businesses and property owners at this time.”