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Charleston agency proposes changes to city’s grant applications

Facade grants for buildings in Charleston could be streamlined to create one set of guidelines and a single application to be used throughout the city.

In addition, grant awards would be raised to $20,000 per building or $5,000 per address, whichever is greater.

Charleston Urban Renewal Authority board members discussed both proposals at a meeting Wednesday. They took no formal action on either, but opted to have a plan in writing on which to vote by October.

Charleston has two programs - one administered by West Side Main Street and one by East End Main Street. Both are funded with CURA money, but each has its own application process.

For both programs now, property owners can receive up to $5,000 per business. The grants are a 50-50 match, so property owners must apply for the grant and then perform and pay for the work before being reimbursed up to half of the cost.

Last month, East End Main Street Executive Director Ric Cavender asked the authority to raise the maximum reimbursement to $20,000 per building. The request was due, in part, to larger buildings in the neighborhood that could use facade improvements, but weren't helped much because of the $5,000 limit.

Board member Rusty Webb said some buildings have several addresses and therefore should be able to get more money. He proposed adding a clause that would allow a maximum grant of $20,000 per building or $5,000 per address. Applicants selected would receive whichever amount is higher.

For example, Webb said the Morrison Building, in which the authority meets, has seven different addresses. Thus, under his proposal, the entire building could get up to $35,000, if it were eligible. Other buildings in the city also have multiple addresses, he said.

"My idea has always been more liberal in grant money than restrictive," Webb said.

The authority also is pursuing the revival of the Downtown Urban Renewal District and the Elk City Urban Renewal District, which includes much of the West Side in the blocks nearest the Elk River.

If city council decides to revive either or both districts, a uniform grant application and process would make using the grants easier for those districts, versus establishing a new plan altogether.

Board members asked Cavender and West Side Main Street Executive Director Stephanie Johnson to create a single application to present at the next meeting.

In other business, the authority discussed the status of construction on the new East End park off Dixie Street. The park's first phase - the built-up portion near Dixie Street - is 95 percent complete, said James Hemme of GAI Consultants.

For the second phase, located in the rear of the property, Hemme said the state Department of Environmental Protection has only required 12 inches of dirt to be replaced on the back part of the property to counter small amounts of hydrocarbon contamination found on the long-vacant lot.

Some of that dirt will come from the MVB Bank construction downtown, but GAI is looking for more.

"There isn't going to be any type of large-scale landscaping (in that phase)," Hemme said.

Building the park has been discussed since the mid-2000s. The process has involved property acquisition, demolition of houses, repairs to utilities on the property and environmental remediation.

"We are correcting a lot of the problems from the past," authority Director Jim Edwards said.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.


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