In a flurry of meetings over two days, Emmetsburg is preparing an application for half-million dollars in Community Development Block Grant funds. The funds would be used for faade improvement in a historic district of downtown Emmetsburg.
Emmetsburg Community Developer Steve Heldt described the opportunity for Community Development block Grant (CDBG) funds to Emmetsburg City Council, Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities and Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors in an effort to secure matching funds. He also pitched the program to downtown Emmetsburg merchants to see how many would be interested in the faade improvement.
Derek Lord, Community Investments Team Leader with Iowa Department of Economic Development, addressed community leaders at a Dec. 1 meeting in Emmetsburg. He explained that downtown revitalization projects must have long-lasting benefits for the downtown area that contribute toward a comprehensive downtown revitalization effort.
A panel of five Emmetsburg residents mapped the area that would be designated as "historic downtown Emmetsburg." Heldt described the 32-block area: from the south shore of Five Island Lake to the railroad tracks on Broadway; and two blocks east and two blocks west from Broadway. There are 45 buildings in that 32 block area that could be eligible for the program.
Describing the grant application to the council, Heldt pointed out Harn Soper's renovation project of the bakery building.
"He's spending a half million dollars on one building," said Heldt. "It would be great if we could spend a million dollars on 25 or 30 buildings in that same area. We could see several buildings that have been restored to their historic value."
While there is no hard and fast rule to the amount of matching funds for the Community Development Block Grant, Heldt pointed out that the application would be looked at more favorably with a higher local match.
"My recommendation is to come up with a 25-percent match. So I need to find $250,000 in the next two weeks," he said.
Heldt has targeted the City of Emmetsburg, Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities and the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.
On the city side, Heldt pointed out that the city contributed $60,000 in TIF money to assist with demolition of the former Wards building. A little under $16,000 was actually allocated for that project, leaving $46,000 in the fund. He also pointed out that about a year ago the city put $10,000 aside for Operation Blueprint. Those funds were given to Emmetsburg Economic Development Corporation. In addition to matching funds, business owners would need to have ownership in faade renovation as well.
When addressing Emmetsburg City Council, Council representative Sandy Pelzer asked Heldt if he had considered application for grant funds from Palo Alto County Gaming Development Corporation (PACGDC). She suggested that these funds could be added to the matching funds account.
Heldt said because of the timeline he had not talked to PACGDC. He also noted that he could not get in to see the PACGDC board.
"What if you put on the grant application (to PACGDC) that you had applied (for CDBG funding) and the chances are favorable that you could receive a grant?" asked Pelzer.
"If you were the state of Iowa offering half a million dollars, would you give it to someone who had a chance of getting the money or to someone who already had the money? Who would you give it to?" answered Heldt.
"Federal and state both look at partnering, and so does the gaming corporation," answered Pelzer. "I guess it would have been worth a shot."
Councilman Tony Kauten said he attended the Dec. 1 meeting. "Derek (Lord) said it was looked on favorably if you actually have skin in the game. They were looking at cash on hand from those different organizations. They were more willing to go ahead and see through not just the faade thing, but later on. This is just a start go ahead and make it look pretty when you drive through town, but there are still other issues that need to be addressed later on. If people are willing to step forward and truly spend some of their own money for that first part, then it is looked at more favorably."
Councilman Steve Finer added, "I'm assuming that not everybody that applies for it is going to get money. They're going to give it to those who have it in hand."
Heldt also told the council that MidAmerican Energy will be in town to take a look about updating downtown lighting. Sidewalks and underground were other areas of discussion. He noted that all three of these would be paid for with local dollars, but could go toward the match.
City Commits Funding
"I'm in favor of this and I would put it at a higher priority than the new community center," said Pelzer. "So another thought comes to mind is to re-allocate some of that $500,000 that we set aside for that project and divert it towards this project."
Councilman Brian Campbell suggested the city "commit another $30,000 in addition to what Steve's got to get it started, with the option that there could be more. That would be roughly a third of what he's looking for from the three entities."
"I think we do need to take the lead in this project," added Finer.
Laying out the timeline, assuming the grant application is successful, Heldt said the city would have 18 months to actually do the work. Businesses would have 18 months to spend the funds.
"It's not like we'd have to have it all today," he offered. "The commitment is all I need and then you'll have this December to budget for the following year and try to find that extra $30,000."
The pre-app must be completed by Jan. 10.
"What we need to tell them in the pre-app is that the local match is going to be committed, whether it's 50-percent or 40-percent," said City Administrator John Bird. "The higher the match, the better the application."
Council representatives voted to re-designate $46,000 in TIF funding and ask if ECDC would redirect $10,000 from Blueprint Emmetsburg, plus an additional $30,000.
Hear The Plan
Addressing Emmetsburg business owners Tuesday morning, Heldt reiterated that the pre-app is due by Jan. 10 and there is a need for businesses to say they would be interested in improving the front of their buildings and paying roughly 25-percent of the cost. He noted that the city had committed $84-85,000 and Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities voted to give $125,000.
"The project is a faade improvement on your existing building," said Aaron Sedey, planner with Northwest Iowa Planning and Development. "We're looking at doing a 25-percent match. The rest of the 75-percent will be covered either by city dollars or federal dollars and you'll be on the hook for 25-percent of that."
Sedey noted that along with the investment, business owners would have to do an easement on the face for seven years.
"You'll be giving a little bit to take a lot. You're getting a great deal," he said.
Offering further explanation on the easement, Heldt said it is against the law to spend federal money on private property. Building owners who want to participate would agree to an easement with the city, the width and height of the building and six or eight inches in, for the next seven years.
"Speaking for the city, the city has no intent telling you what to do with the easement," said Heldt. "It just allows the money that you spend on an easement that the city has. The easement makes your property 'public' for seven years."
To participate, business owners would first need to get a cost estimate of proposed repair/renovation from a contractor. Letters of commitment from business owners would be required to submit with the pre-app.
"In the next two weeks we need to have your letter of commitment," said Sedey.
"There has been a tremendous amount of synergy to take the first step," Harn Soper told the group of business people. "There is a business in town that has always wanted to be downtown on Main Street. Having taken the first step, the anticipation of the traffic flow that will bring in, that business is going to come in to our store. These things just happen once you take that first step. And it makes a difference because it affects the quality of life.
"Anybody can build a strip mall, but that's not a community focal point," he continued. "What we have here in Emmetsburg is irreplaceable and this is a great opportunity to put leverage from the community to be established as the heartbeat of the community. My point is, there is a tremendous amount of synergy as soon as you take that first step. That's what we're experiencing."
Board of Supervisors
Emmetsburg Community Development Director Steve Heldt presented a brief overview of the Downtown Facade Program to the Palo Alto County Supervisors on Dec. 13.
"I am coming to you today to tell you about this program, and propose an investment by the county in the program, as you have been identified as an owner of a building in this area, the Annex-White Bank building, Heldt said.
Heldt was corrected when the board pointed out the county also owns the Brink Building on Main, which houses the County Attorney's office and Hersom Commodities.
Supervisors expressed interest in the project and understood that $41,000 remained to be raised for the project. The board will meet with Heldt on Dec. 20 to discuss the program in greater detail.
"I think this is a great program and it will add a lot of value to our community," Heldt noted.
Revolving Loan Fund
Perhaps not all improvements can be covered with the facade program. Maureen Elbert, Executive Director of Kossuth/Palo Alto Economic Development, suggests the county revolving loan fund.
"The revolving loan fund is a county based, county wide revolving loan fund which is eligible. The max that an individual can apply for is $50,000 and it is all job creation based. For ever one new job being created, or two part time equallying one, then that is up to $10,000 eligible. So you can go up to $50,000. Within this we have to have some form of attachment to real estate. Tangible items that are needed, roofing or new windows, those kinds of things," she explained.
The loan can be set up for seven years, but the maximum is ten years. Depending on the project, interest can range from 2.5-percent to five percent.