BERLIN — Approximately $50,000 in Community Legacy Grant funding was awarded to Berlin this month from the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).
The money will most likely be used for warehouse-to-office retail conversions and façade improvements, with officials hoping to look into land acquisition with DHCD grants next year.
To date, Berlin has received $175,000 in Community Legacy grants, according to Berlin’s Director of Economic and Community Development Michael Day. Day called the DHCD funding, “one of the best programs in the state.” Because the grants are at least a one-to-one ratio matching of private and government dollars, but average closer to two-to-one, Day estimated that the program is responsible for injecting a combined $400,000 into Berlin’s downtown and the façades of several buildings and store fronts.
“It has been a very important part of improving the image of downtown,” said Mayor Gee Williams.
During the current recession especially, the mayor said, the influx of DHCD grants have helped boost the money private individuals are able to invest into their buildings. Williams put the lion’s share of the success of the program squarely on Day and his ability to reach out to private business.
“The main reason is because Mike has been out there letting people know about it,” said the mayor.
Besides the significant amount of funding Berlin will receive this year, Williams noted that the town continues to build a positive relationship with DHCD that should allow them to leverage more funding in the future.
“The state has put money out there for communities willing to roll-up their sleeves and find partnerships with the private sector,” he said. “You have to build a reputation when you want to establish a relationship with government just like establishing a relationship with other individuals.”
Day agreed and said that the success Berlin has had over the past few years should give him more flexibility with future grant applications. This year, he applied for $75,000 but received $50,000, $30,000 of which will likely go to the warehouse project with about $20,000 left for various façade work. In the coming years, Day plans on applying for, and hopefully receiving, more funding through the Community Legacy program which could then be used for things beyond façade work.
“One thing I’m looking at hard is land acquisition for a parking lot,” he said.
That doesn’t mean that future façade work won’t be continued, however.
“There are still buildings left to be done,” remarked Williams.
He added that the funding isn’t “entitlement [or] a handout” but was, in his opinion, a perfect example of government and the private sector cooperating to reap a mutual benefit. And with the individual businesses, the mayor said that he was impressed with their desire to buckle down and find ways to make things work.
“They’re investing their heart and soul into these … they’re doing this as something they truly believe in,” he said.
Berlin wasn’t the only local municipality to receive a chunk of the $5.5 million awarded this year through the Community Legacy program. 38 total municipalities received at least some funding; in Worcester County, Ocean City did the best, taking in a combined $150,000 for façade, interior, and street improvements. Like Berlin, Snow Hill received $50,000 as part of their continuing façade enchantment efforts while Pocomoke was awarded a combined $20,000 for museum repairs, a back-up generator for the Discovery Center, and a digital cinema server.