Brownstown seeks funding to help improve façades, streetscapes



Twice in the past 13 years, downtown revitalization plans were put together for Brownstown to make façade and streetscape improvements.

Town officials and Brownstown/Ewing Main Street had the plans put in place in hopes of someday being able to apply for a grant to do the work.

Shannon McLeod with Priority Project Resources, who has assisted the town with federal grants for nearly 20 years, said the original plan was established in 2004 and updated in 2012.

With the Jackson County Judicial Center being constructed in Brownstown, she recently met with town council President Sally Lawson, Brownstown/Ewing Main Street President Luke Nolting and Clerk-Treasurer David Willey to brainstorm ideas of potential projects that would be competitive in applying for a grant.

One is buying two vacant lots adjacent to Heritage Park along East Walnut Street and constructing a building to house the town hall and a community center and include restroom facilities to use for events at the park.

The other is partnering with downtown business and building owners and banks to make improvements to buildings.

Both grant opportunities are through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, and the projects would cost around $1 million apiece.

The town hall/community center/restrooms project would be through a Public Facilities Grant ($500,000), and the façade and streetscape improvements would be through the Main Street Revitalization Program ($600,000).

The town council recently expressed interest in moving forward with applying for the grants.

Information about the grants will be shared at the Brownstown/Ewing Main Street annual meeting at 6 p.m. Jan. 9 at W.R. Ewing, and McLeod plans to set up a meeting in March to explain them even more.

The town purchased the 0.45-acre lot at 121 E. Walnut St. in 2014 for $45,000. A $155,000 federal grant helped pay for that purchase and the $64,562 cost to demolish the two feed mill buildings and a silo.

Heritage Park was established, and the town received a $50,000 Place Based Investment Grant, a $5,000 Community Impact Grant from the Community Foundation of Jackson County and more than $20,000 in donations to build a pavilion.

The goal was to construct a building for restrooms and a storage area, so that may be accomplished if the town is able to purchase the two vacant lots next to Heritage Park and receive the Public Facilities Grant.

McLeod said the town will need to have the two lots appraised and do an appraisal review, and then it could make an offer to the property owner.

If that’s acceptable and Brownstown is successful in landing the grant, some of the grant funds would be used to acquire the property. Then the town would hire an architect to come up with design plans for the building and have an environmental assessment completed.

At that point, the grant application process would begin. Proposals are due in May, the full application has to be in by July 20 and grants would be awarded in September.

The new building would allow the town hall to move from 200 W. Walnut St., which the police and fire departments could use.

The rest of the new building would have restrooms and the community center, which could be used for events and meetings. Lawson said the senior citizens center could move from its current building at 124 S. Main St., which the town owns, to the community center.

“You could be in there by March or April of 2020 and open up to the public and have a new town office down there and make more of an impact down in that area,” McLeod said.

Down the road, she said the town could apply for another grant to tear down a building on the north side of the property to make way for a parking lot.

The façade program requires a lot more coordination, McLeod said.

After information is rolled out at the Jan. 9 meeting, McLeod said she would meet with downtown business and building owners in March to explain the program to them.

The owners could help with the local match.

“Let’s say that your building needs $20,000 in improvements — upstairs windows replaced, tuck-pointing on brick, a new sign,” McLeod said. “For your $5,000 investment, we can give you a $15,000 grant. We’re hoping that there might be some businesses that might be interested in that.”

Then a bank investor group could be organized, which involves local lending agencies or developmental groups putting together a consortium of their funds.

“You could get them to contribute small amounts and designate one to act as the lender,” McLeod said. “Basically for that $5,000 that the business would have to do, they could borrow it from that consortium at a lower interest rate than what’s on the prime market.

“The banks get to be community-minded but still will make a little interest off of it, and the savings would be to the business owner, too, so it’s kind of an encouragement of a win-win,” she said. “Basically, they would borrow the funds from there and then contribute them to the overall project to help with the local match.”

If all of that comes together, an architect would meet with the business and building owners to see what could be done to their buildings and estimate the cost, and the owners would apply to the investor group.

“Those applications would be seeded out of where’s the most bang for our buck going to go,” McLeod said.

Once the businesses and buildings are selected, the town would obtain a permanent easement to be able to make improvements.

“Once they get into it, then they are limited in what they can do to the building without going back to this group for authorization or approval, but all of them have to come back to the town anyway for certain permits and whatnot,” McLeod said.

The town would apply for the grant in 2019. If it’s awarded funding, improvements would start in 2020.

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