Businesses getting overdue face lift
You can put a price tag on the cost to renovate an old building but you can’t attach a dollar sign to the lasting impression those improvements create.
“Replicating what a building looked like when it was first built, well, that’s priceless,” said Roger Thomas, Director of Main Street Elkader and the Elkader Development Corporation.
Thomas knows what he’s talking about: He’s seen first-hand the impact of façade renovations in nearby towns like West Union and Fayette. He’s also been a driving force behind the work that’s just getting underway in Elkader.
“This project will preserve the value and attractiveness of our historic commercial district,” Thomas said. “Many of (our downtown) buildings are structurally sound but have façades with serious brick and window deterioration. This is an opportunity for property owners to get some help in addressing those issues.”
But there’s more at stake here than pleasing storefronts.
“Elkader is a destination place for people to shop, recreate, attend cultural events and dine,” Thomas continued. “An attractive downtown area will add to their enjoyment of their visit.
Implied in Thomas’ statement is the notion that people are drawn to downtown areas with architecturally interesting streetscapes. Research by the National Tourism Association backs up the claim: Survey findings indicate the “overall appearance” is a top factor in tourists’ decision to return to a specific destination.
The downtown facade improvement program was officially launched last week when work crews removed a chalet-style front from the building at the corner of Main and Mulberry Streets. When finished, the structure, soon to be occupied by a local law firm, will have a brick and glass facade. Work will then continue moving north on Main Street; eventually 10 properties will be restored.
Participation in the project is voluntary. For those who get involved, however, funds are available from a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to help offset costs.
“Right now, we’re at a 50/50 match,” Thomas said. “In addition, both local banks—Central State and FreedomBank—have stepped up and will provide 0 interest loans for the property owners.”
Though Thomas is hesitant to call the program a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he’s pretty certain it will be a long, long time before small businesses have a chance to access grant money for building improvements.
“It’s a win-win,” he says. “We get a more attractive, historic looking downtown and property owners get to add value to their buildings that will make them more sellable. For example, many of the owners are taking advantage of this program to make energy efficiency improvements like new windows and doors.”
“It’s been a long journey to get to this point,” Thomas continued. “The City of Elkader and Main Street Elkader are proud to have helped property owners who are interested in investing in their buildings and saving them for the next generation. All of us should take responsibility for the future of this community by preserving the historic value and beauty we enjoy here.”
Façade work will continue until the retail district launches its holiday sales season in November. Work will halt for the winter and resume next spring.
The Register will publish photos of the facade improvements on an ongoing basis.
By Pam Reinig, Register Editor