By Connor Clark
Bath-DeWitt Connection staff reporter
The City of DeWitt has a history that begins in 1833 when Capt. David Scott and his family first settled the area. Back then it was called Wabwahaseesee and was home to many Chippewa Native Americans.
Fast forward to present-day DeWitt: the town still preserves a historic feel. With many historic homes and building still intact, the wear of time has started to show on its buildings.
The Façade Grant Improvement Program has been assisting local businesses in the City of DeWitt for the past five years. The program offers businesses up to $5,000 or 75 percent of the total cost of a structural or aesthetic improvement.
The program is so popular that nearly every business in downtown DeWitt has used it, per Downtown Development Authority Vice Chair Beth Herendeen.
“The main goal is to improve and enhance the outer appearances of our local downtown,” Herendeen said. “It is especially meant for businesses that are struggling and cannot afford these changes.”
“I really think it has made an improvement around the downtown area, it seems to have more and more cars driving around,” local Allstate employee Stephanie Kelley said.
Applications are closed as of July 24, 2015, but the program is set to continue next year. The application is only 13 questions long and includes information such as, estimated project cost, project start date, and photos of the proposed project. The overall budget for the grant in 2015 was $21,282.50, per DDA coordinator Linda Kahler.
“The money comes from property taxes from commercial businesses,” City of DeWitt Administrator Dan Coss said. “No tax increase was made to fund the budget.”
Not every business will be approved by the DDA; however only one proposal was denied this year because it was for residential use. The program can only be used for commercial use and types of improvements include, entryway improvements, window replacement, and installation or replacement of awnings and signs, per DDA rules and guidelines.
“It is certainly not uncommon, many governments like to give façade grants in order to upkeep their downtown area.” University of Tampa Associate Professor Scott Paine said. Paine is an associate professor for communication, government, and world affairs.
Downtown DeWitt Chiropractic Center, p.c. was approved a grant for redoing the siding on its building this year. Dr. Jennifer L. Whitman, owner of the center, said that they received about half of the maximum grant, and finds the program very successful and easy.
“Once you apply it goes through a voting with the DDA committee, then after it is approved, you know how much money you will be reimbursed for,” Whitman said.
Businesses are still responsible for finding their own contractors to fix their listed improvements. Then after completion, they submit a reimbursement form in order to receive the money they were granted.
Whitman also serves as a DDA board member, but according to Section VI of the City of DeWitt’s Ethics Policy Ordinance, applicants who are board members may still apply, but cannot be involved in the voting of the grant.
“We have this so it stays fair for all the applicants,” Whitman said. “So just because someone is on the board, doesn’t mean they will be accepted for the grant.”
Another board member, Andrew Joslyn, was accepted this year for building improvements at Reed Insurance Agency. Their grant will reimburse the maximum amount of $5,000, per Joslyn.
“We just purchased the building next door so we want to match up the outsides of the building,” Joslyn said. “We also plan of having some brick work done.”
A business can apply more then one time; however they cannot submit more then one project application per year. For businesses who cannot finish projects because of insufficient funds, the DDA will not fund projects that have already started. Also, in order to receive funds, applicants have to fully complete the program requirements, per DDA rules and guidelines.
The requirements are, the initial application and once a grant has been rewarded, the business must complete a grant program agreement sheet. This sheet must be signed by the applicant and returned to the DDA within 30 days of receiving the acceptance notification, per DDA rules and guidelines.
“We might apply again next year,” Whitman said. “The program is very quick and easy.”