Officials: Franklin façade grants overwhelming success

A grant program fixing up downtown Franklin business buildings has been so popular it has run out of money twice.

Money is starting to run low again in the Franklin Development Corp.’s facade program, and officials expect to eventually have to ask for more tax dollars.

Since 2008, more than $650,000 has been spent to fix up downtown Franklin business buildings, and the demand remains high. Officials say the program is working.

“It is evident that this has been a program that’s worked, and it’s made a big difference,” development corporation board president Steven Woods said. “If we want to try to attract more families and businesses, we’ve got to invest in our infrastructure.”

The grant program began in 2008, when the city created and funded the Franklin Development Corp. The taxpayer-funded agency had multiple programs that would be paid for with its $5 million budget, including $500,000 set aside for a façade grant program, where businesses owners could get money to revitalize the face of their building with new signage, windows, resurfaced brick work and paint.

The program was immediately popular, and 22 businesses have gotten grants. The only eligibility requirements for the grant are that businesses need to be located in the tax-increment financing (TIF) district, money had to be used on exterior work, and property owners have to commit to at least $12,500 of their own money to receive a matching grant of $25,000. The maximum grant is $25,000 per face of a building, so structures on a corner are eligible for up to $50,000.

For every 50 cents the owners put in toward improving their business, they get a dollar in return, Woods said.

“The dollar commitment from their standpoint is pretty minimal compared to what they get,” he said.

When the initial $500,000 ran low, the organization redistributed funds so it could continue to give grants to other business owners, Franklin community development specialist Rhoni Oliver said.

More than a year ago, the development corporation stopped accepting new applications, and more than 30 people were put on a waiting list.

Recently, the group started accepting applications again, with another $100,000 earmarked for the program. Within three months, that money has been nearly depleted. The first three applications for the façade grant this year totaled $78,773, and applications are still coming in.

To fund the rest of the waiting list, officials decided to transfer another $104,000 in February. The money was enough to cover the applications that had been turned in but left no more money for new ones.

As long as business owners are interested, the Franklin Development Corp. will continue to find a way to give out the grants, including transferring any remaining money, Woods said.

The organization’s goal for this year is to make enough progress with the remaining money to justify a request for more tax dollars from the Franklin Redevelopment Commission in the future.

“I think, from my perspective, our goal (is) we want to use the money that we have in the programs that we know are going to work, to justify that later on,” Woods said.

By the numbers

Downtown facade grants have been popular with businesses in downtown Franklin. From new windows and signs to painting the building, more than 20 business have completed their work using matching grant money. Here’s a look at how much has been spent in downtown Franklin through the grant program:

Initial funding: $500,000

Total grants given out: $655,773

Additional funding planned so far this year: $204,000

Amount given out since January: $78,773.50

SOURCE: Franklin Development Corp.