Grants Are Changing the Face of Downtown
To some people who go downtown to shop or eat, having to drive around the block a few extra times to find a parking space would be an annoyance. But to Scott Moore, it’s cool.
“This area is becoming a point of destination,” Moore, president of the Main Street Portsmouth board of directors, said of the historic Bonneyfiddle area. “Five years ago, the area was home to a few small antique shops and not much more.”
Most who came to the area then did so to view the impressive floodwall murals – still a good reason to visit – but there wasn’t much else to see or do.
“Today, you will find those antique shops are still there and some have grown, and they have been joined by businesses, retail shops, restaurants and residential units,” Moore said with a grin.
A few blocks away, along Chillicothe Street in the downtown district, a similiar transformation has been taking place. “We are seeing pedestrians again, moving through the downtown area in larger numbers and with growing residential opportunities,” Moore said. “There is a new synergy in the downtown district.”
What’s the reason behind this resurgence in Portsmouth? Well, many things. But one big factor is Main Street’s Building Improvement Grant Program, which has provided $125,000 to local building owners since 2008. Those owners, in turn, have invested a total of $660,000 in the area, in the form of window and door replacements, exterior cleaning and painting, lighting, signage and restoration of architectural features.
“This is our history. This is the area where Portsmouth began in the 1800s,” said Sarah Surina, Main Street’s executive director. “We can’t get these buildings back. We need to take care of them.”
The $25,000 that is given each year to the program’s applicants is an investment in Portsmouth’s future, Surina said. “Our downtown is our heart. Having an attractive downtown contributes to our community’s pride and brings more people to shop and eat, or just walk around.”
There are hundreds of eligible buildings in the 38-block area that makes up the revitalization district. Thirty-six have received grant funds for exterior improvements since the program began.
“The geographic size of the district presents a tremendous number of commercial properties, each in various physical conditions and occupancies,” Moore said. “A lot has happened in the past five years. I am excited to see what will take place over the next five.”
In its pilot year (2008), the building improvement program received a one-time allotment of $25,000 from Heritage Ohio, the Ohio Department of Development and the Scioto Foundation, which allowed eight buildings to receive grants for improvements.
After such a great response, Main Street commited to finding a permanent partner for the program. The City of Portsmouth stepped forward and now provides $25,000 annually through its capital improvement budget.
“This program is an economic tool to grow businesses and create jobs in our community, but, really, it provides so much more,” Moore said. “We are preserving the history and heritage of our downtown for future generations. Taking buildings that have sat vacant 10, 20, 30 years or more and putting them back in service is making a huge investment in improving the quality of life in our community.”
Now that more shops, restaurants and services are available in downtown Portsmouth, there is a growing interest in urban living. One aspect of the grant program that helps in this regard is that it promotes investment in the entire structure, not just the first floor.
“As a result, we are starting to see lights coming on in the upper floors of these buildings to accommodate a variety of residential loft-style apartment units,” Moore said.
Francesca Hartop is a Portsmouth business and building owner who has received assistance from the building improvement grant program for her many projects, including the Garage Café on Second Street and the Portsmouth STEM Academy, located in the same building but facing Third Street. Up next are renovations to the Daehler Building on Second Street.
The program “allows the work to happen sooner, but more importantly, it allows more work to be done than the owner-alone funding might have allowed,” Hartop said. It also provides employment for local contractors, instills community pride, results in work that preserves local history, and serves as an example for other building owners.
The building improvement grants have helped launch downtown Portsmouth on a positive cycle, Hartop added.
“Every dollar that helps the neighborhood raises property values for everyone and makes additional investment even more attainable.”
Do you qualify?
The Building Improvement Grant Program provides monies for exterior rehabilitation of buildings located in the Downtown Improvement District. An applicant must be the owner of the commercial building.
• The minimum project cost is $2,000.
• The maximum grant is $10,000 (special circumstances may allow more to be awarded).
• The building owner must pay at least 50 percent of the project cost.
• The improvements must be visible from a public right-of-way and vital to the general structural integrity of the building.
To find out more, contact Sarah Surina, executive director of Main Street Portsmouth, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (740) 464-0203.
Photos Ashley Gallaher Quinn