BERLIN – Town officials are encouraging local merchants to consider making exterior improvements to their buildings as $40,000 in grant money is currently available.
Councilman Thom Gulyas took the opportunity during this week’s town council meeting to remind the public that Berlin still had $40,000 in façade funding through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.
“It baffles me that nobody wants to take advantage of these façade grants,” Gulyas said. “It blows my mind.”
Ivy Wells, the town’s economic development director, said that when she’d been hired by the town there had been leftover façade funding from 2013 and 2014. Once that had been utilized, she was able to acquire $50,000 more. She has about $40,000 left that needs to be used by next year.
“I am trying to get the word out,” she said.
Wells said merchants or property owners, or a combination of the two, could apply for the façade grants, which are matching grants that range from $500 to $10,000.
“I can reimburse them up to $10,000 if they spend $20,000,” Wells said.
The funding can be used to pay for any sort of exterior improvements, including new windows, gutters, paint and the like.
Toby Gilbert, proprietor of Gilbert’s Provisions, said he got a $6,200 grant that helped him with signage, exterior renovations, paint and doors. Council member Lisa Hall said the owner of her building had applied for a grant to pay for new ADA compliant doors. She said the program was a great way for small business owners to improve their properties.
“Signs are also eligible and most small businesses cannot afford to invest in their signage and facades at first as they need to spend those monies on licensing, permitting, insurance, inventory, etc.,” Hall said. “The Maryland Main Street façade program is an excellent way to support small business and increase revenue for the business as well as the revenue and appearance of Maryland’s Main streets.”
Wells said other businesses that had taken advantage of the program included Art in the Fields and Jeffrey Auxer Designs. Her office approved eight grants last year.
She says that if merchants don’t use the funds, the town will receive less façade funding in the future.
“If we don’t spend the money, we won’t get the same amount,” she said.
Several people have expressed interest in it and she’s hoping to see them follow through and submit applications.
“It’s free money,” she said. “It’ll increase the value of your building. Take advantage of it while it’s here. One day we might not be able to offer it.”
Because the town has several businesses that have made good use of the grant program, officials from the Community Development Network of Maryland will visit Berlin in October.
“I thought it’d be a great idea to show what wonderful things grant funding can accomplish,” Wells said.
Mayor Gee Williams encouraged Wells to take some pictures of successful renovations the grants had helped finance to show merchants who might be interested in the program.
Information on the façade program is available on the town’s website, www.berlinmd.gov, under the “Economic and Community Development” tab.