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New loan program hopes to spruce up downtown buildings

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The city is hoping downtown property owners take advantage of a loan program to update the look of their buildings.

— image credit: Brian Beckley, Renton Reporter

Property owners downtown will have an opportunity to take advantage of a federal loan program next year, thanks to a change in how the City of Renton plans to use its Community Development Block Grant Funds.

The grants will be used as part of the city’s new Downtown Commercial Rehabilitation and Facade Improvement Loan Program to help private land owners improve their properties in hopes of bringing more retail businesses to the downtown core.

“We hope that this will be one of the tools that generate some interest downtown and will ultimately lead to new commerce,” said Community Development Block Grant Manager John Collum.

According to Collum, one of the issues the city is facing in trying to re-energize the downtown shopping district is the age and the look of the buildings. While Collum was quick to point out that there is not a whole lot of vacant space

downtown, the space that is available is “not attracting the pure retail” the city would hope because, he said, the spaces are just not what retailers are looking for.

The hope is that property owners will take advantage of the loan program to refresh the looks of their buildings, potentially as part of a larger project.

Collum said the loans feature “very favorable terms” and are designed to be used on any project that will affect the building’s facade, from painting and windows to signage, awnings and more.

“Anything that will be part of a project to improve the appearance of the building,” he said.

The loans can cover 50 percent of the total cost of the project, with a minimum loan amount of $10,000 (for a minimum project amount of $20,000). The loans are 0 percent interest loans. If the project is part of a larger rehabilitation, which is the hope, the loan money must be used for facade improvement.

Using CDBG money for a facade Improvement program is something new for the city. Prior to the upcoming budget cycle, CDBG money was used in human services, primarily in housing assistance.

The city has compensated for the removal of the CDBG money by increasing the city’s general fund contribution to human services so there is no gap in the housing assistance programs.

“This is just a matter of moving money from one pot to another,” Council President Don Persson said during a recent council discussion on the topic, adding that the change was a “win-win situation” since the money going to human services was not being cut.

Collum said a handful of owners and several tenants have already expressed interest in the program.

Collum said the city has $245,000 available through the program in 2015.

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New loan program hopes to spruce up downtown buildings

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