Building Funds (Belleville Telescope)

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City Council weighs request for funding grant program to fix up business buildings

By Fred Arnold Telescope publisher

By all accounts the Business Incentive Grant Program has been successful in helping numerous local business owners improve their facilities that they might not otherwise have been able to afford to. But now the fund is broke.

On Monday a contingent from the Belleville Chamber and Main Street, as well as a local business owner spoke before the Belleville City Council asking them to consider funding the program at least through 2016.

Chamber and Main Street director Melinda Pierson said the matching fund program, which helps business improve store fronts, roofs and infrastructure, was originally funded through the city’s lodging tax. But those funds are now gone.

“Whether that was the best place for the matching funds to come from is up for some debate, but these monies have been used up and with some cutbacks on how our lodging tax money is spent we just don’t have anything else left to put into the program,” she said.

Chamber and Main Street board member Mikel Hadachek told the council there are already requests from at least two and possibly three businesses who are seeking to use the program to help improve their buildings.

“I don’t know that we have any specific amount that we’re asking the City to consider,” he said. “Typically we award $1,000 on a matching basis and we are kind of hoping that the City will fund this through at least 2016.”

Belleville businessman Doug Wilkinson spoke before the council in support of the program. He said that he has used the fund to help him with roofing upgrades on two of his buildings, After 5 and The Dinner Bell. He encouraged the municipality to help fund the program as a means of keeping downtown viable and not falling into disrepair.

Wilkinson said there are many positive things happening in Belleville and tying in a vibrant downtown and keeping business building properly maintained is paramount to ensuring the momentum continues.

“We have a chance to save this part of town,” he said. “We lost that chance a few years ago with the buildings down the street,” referencing the block that contain the former Republic Hotel, Crossroads Floral and Coast to Coat Store.

“We have the ball rolling and I want to plead the case that this program needs funded,” Wilkinson added. “Doing so would secure the downtown’s future for many years to come.”

“Folks, it’s $3,000 a year that we would be spending to make sure the rest of our buildings don’t end up like those a block north of here,” he said.

Council member Steve Scofield said he believed it was important for the city to fund this program to some level. He suggested however, rather than giving a fee at random that the program be looked into a little further and a recommendation made at the next council meeting.”

“If we’re going to spend between $100,000-$150,000 to tear down a building (The Republic Hotel block) it seems ridiculous hat we wouldn’t spend a few thousand dollars to save out downtown.”

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