Town Manager Michael Boaz informed the town board on Tuesday, July 17, that the Department of Commerce had awarded the town a $50,000 grant.
“It’s called a grant, but it’s a direct appropriation,” said Boaz.
The General Assembly awarded the money without any sort of a grantwriting process. The town had not requested it.
Boaz informed the board that use of the funds is limited to downtown revitalization projects, planning costs and physical improvements, architect and design costs, streetscape, public infrastructure, facade and building improvements, property acquisition, wayfinding signage, and art or cultural installations.
Boaz then proposed to the board that they use the funds to cover the hard engineering costs for the recently completed streetscape plan or proposed changes to the town hall complex.
The streetscape plan is a draft plan, not yet approved by the town board or Main Street design committee. The plan includes provision for an amphitheater where Public Works is now located with a view of Pilot Mountain behind the stage, and converting upper level parking at town hall to a permanent market space.
“I hate to spend it all on engineering, but we will need it,” said Commissioner Gary Bell.
To which Boaz replied, “You can’t do streetscape without engineering.”
Bell asked how parking would be handled for an amphitheater.
“We will continue to take advantage of the kindness of our neighbors,” said Boaz, citing nearby locations which have made their parking facilities available for town events.
“We have one (amphitheater) at the Civic Center, and it’s used once a year,” said Bell.
“They don’t have that mountain,” replied Boaz.
Mayor Dwight Atkins asked if the grant might be a recurring thing.
Boaz answered that it has happened for other municipalities, but it shouldn’t be counted on.
After more discussion, the board seemed to reach a consensus that engineering costs to implement the streetscape plan is how they would spend the money, but no formal motion or action was taken.
“We are very grateful to the General Assembly for this money,” said Commissioner Evan Cockerham.
The board had a discussion about being admitted to the state’s Main Street program, and asked the town manager what was required. He outlined the process.
“I don’t think any town can do more than we have to get into the Main Street program,” said Mayor Atkins.
“It would help us tremendously to be part of that program,” said Boaz.
In other business, the board discussed changes to the town’s facade grant program.
The guidelines provide for the grant being available throughout the town but Main Street gets priority. It is a matching grant of up to $1,000, so a business or property owner would need to spend $2,000 to receive the maximum amount. The town budget provides for $4,000 in grants so four grants could be given in a year if each was for the maximum amount.
Commissioner Cockerham asked if there was a way to reduce fees as they pose a barrier to participation in the program.
Boaz said he would attempt to do that and would present the board with a completed plan at their regular August meeting.
Boaz told the board, “I’m trying to find ways to incentivize property owners without costing money — without having to budget for it.”
The plan calls for owners of commercial properties to receive a cash grant for a portion of the property tax paid on the increased value of a property after upgrades are made.
The grant would be based on the difference between the tax value of the property before and after the upgrade.
The grant would be 100 percent of the tax due on that difference for the first and second year, 75 percent on the third year, 50 percent on the fourth year and 25 percent on the fifth year.
“It’s a cash grant,” emphasized Boaz. “Tax abatement is illegal in North Carolina. This is not that. It’s a cash grant.”
The board asked Boaz if it was possible the county might sign on and do the same for county taxes.
“I would be happy to pitch it to the county board,” said Boaz. “That would make it seem more attractive. The point is to encourage development downtown. I think this will have to be approved by the board. It’s economic development. We may have to have a public hearing. I’ll have to read up on it.”
A third potential program discussed at a previous planning retreat, a micro-loan program, was not discussed at the workshop meeting.
The board scheduled a closed-session meeting for Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.