Main Street Chestertown Announces Grants for Downtown Façade Improvement

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The nonprofit downtown revitalization organization Main Street Historic Chestertown is offering a total of $40,000 in matching façade-improvement grants to spruce up commercial buildings in the Historic District. In this first year of the program, owners of downtown buildings or businesses may apply for grants covering 60 percent of the cost of their improvement project, up to a maximum grant of $20,000. The minimum grant amount is $500. Applications will be accepted any time after February 12, 2018.

Funding for the grants is provided by the State of Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development, through its Community Legacy program. Throughout the State, façade grants encourage building renovation, historic preservation and improved economic vitality for historic downtowns. Studies have shown that quality aesthetics increase property values and sales revenues, improve the marketability of spaces within a building, and draw businesses and residents to the area.

A building on Cross Street gets a new coat of paint in the fall of 2016. Photo by Kevin B. Moore.

Chestertown’s Façade Improvement Project will be administered by a three-member panel drawn from the Main Street Design Committee. Architect and historic preservationist Barton Ross will chair the review panel. Working with him will be retail stylist and designer Ellen Hurst and artist and graphic designer Joe Karlik.  Ed Minch will represent the Historic District Commission as a non-voting advisor on the panel.

Any owner of a commercial building in the Historic District, or a store owner who is a tenant of a building in the District and has permission from the building owner, can apply for funding. No government buildings or private residences are eligible.  The grants can apply to a range of improvements, from simple additions such as awnings, flower boxes, signage and painting, to more complex construction projects such as restoring an original façade or replacing windows.

To illustrate how the 60 percent grants apply: A property or business owner must make a minimum investment of about $834 to qualify for the minimum grant reimbursement of $500 (60 percent of $834). If the improvement costs $2,000, the grant would reimburse $1,200; and for $8,000 in expenses, it would reimburse $4,800.  For all renovations costing $33,500 and up, the grant would reimburse the maximum amount of $20,000.

“Preference will be given to projects that restore a building’s historical integrity and improve the exterior appearance of a retail store or restaurant,” says review panel chair Ross. “We also encourage coordinated efforts by contiguous properties.”

Timing is important: Applicants must apply before work begins and are asked to submit “before” pictures and detailed drawings of the proposed renovations, along with at least two bids from contractors. Approved projects will be reviewed by the Maryland Historic Trust and the applicant will need to present the plans to the local Historic District Commission for approval, as is required of any downtown renovation. Reimbursements will be based on actual project costs and will require proof of expenses.

“Façade grant programs have been effective in sparking improvements in small-town commercial centers across the country,” says Ross. “Main Street Chestertown is excited about helping property owners keep our own historic downtown looking fresh and inviting.”

To learn more about Main Street’s Façade Improvement program and to download the application documents, visit www.mainstreetchestertown.org or contact Main Street manager Kay MacIntosh (kay.chestertown@gmail.com410-778-2991).

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