Financial and design assistance provided to businesses and commercial property owners who renovate or restore building facades

The City of Somerville’s storefront improvement program is expanding to provide even greater financial assistance through reimbursable grants to businesses and commercial property owners who renovate or restore building facades, revitalizing business districts and making storefronts more attractive, safer and accessible to all.

The revised program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through Community Development Block Grants, will be geographically targeted to improve its impact and effectiveness. This round of funding will first target the East Broadway area where major street and sidewalk improvements are underway and a three-day public planning event was recently held as part of Somerville By Design.

The original storefront improvement program began in 1981, and since 2008, the city has invested approximately $500,000 dollars on storefront improvement projects, leveraged by the same amount in private investments in key commercial districts such as Union Square and East Broadway.

One example of these investments is the storefront improvement at 255 Washington St. in Union Square, undertaken with the expectation that it would help bring more vibrant restaurant business to the area. Four years later, one of those new Union Square businesses, Bronwyn, has been named one of America’s best restaurants according to Esquire Magazine. Other attractive storefronts created through this program include Jumbo’s in Ball Square, Cantina La Mexicana in Union Square, 133-137 Broadway in East Somerville, and LP Market on Highland Avenue.

Now renamed the Commercial Property Improvement Program (CPIP) to reflect the program’s expansion, businesses and commercial property owners can now apply for a matching grant in which the city reimburses 50 percent of the total eligible project cost for substantial storefront rehabilitation projects, up to a maximum of $35,000. Those matching grants are on top of matching grants in which the City reimburses 100 percent of eligible costs for smaller projects such as exterior signage, lighting and awning upgrades, up to a maximum of $7,500. Applicants must also provide for accessibility as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act, with costs directly attributable to ADA compliance eligible for reimbursement up to 50 percent of the matching amount, up to a maximum of $5,000.

These grants make up to $42,500 in total available to businesses and commercial property owners approved through the CPIP, under the administration of the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development (OSPCD). At its sole discretion and subject to available funding, OSPCD may waive those maximum limits to provide for larger projects that maximize visibility and design consistency among commercial streets. Reimbursement grants vary each year, so prospective applicants should contact OSPCD for further information and to inquire about the availability of funding.

OSPCD staff is also available to provide information and technical support to applicants through the conceptual design stage, as well as to advise applicants on how best to schedule and complete reviews and approvals needed to secure a building permit.

“Helping our local businesses improve their storefront facades beautifies our neighborhood commercial districts, attracts more private investment, makes our commercial districts and buildings safer, and helps the city proactively maintain accessibility throughout our community,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone. “This program is consistent with the goals articulated in our 20-year comprehensive SomerVision plan. It also embraces the ‘Somerville By Design’ philosophy that has already proved hugely successful in our community by combining community participation, place making and design, with businesses and commercial property owners working collaboratively with the City’s planning and design experts to create the best possible outcome.”

Improvements eligible through the CPIP include:

  • Removal of architectural barriers to public accessibility;
  • Replacement or reconstruction of historical architectural details, and removal of elements that cover architectural details;
  • Window display areas that are appropriately scaled and that facilitate night viewing;
  • Window replacement and window framing visible from the street that are appropriately scaled to the building;
  • Removal of existing solid, roll down security fixtures or, at least, the replacement of those solid fixtures with interior open-mesh type fixtures;
  • Signage that is attractively integrated into the architecture of the building, including the window area, awnings or canopies, and entryways;
  • Lighting that is visually appealing and appropriately illuminates signage, storefront window displays, and recessed areas of a building façade;
  • Awnings or canopies that can be both functional and visually appealing;
  • Some landscaping features attached to the building, such as boxes or planters, when part of an overall façade restoration project;
  • Other storefront construction, appropriately scaled and designed within the context of the existing building; and
  • Cleaning, repainting or residing (masonry or wood) of buildings. All proposed materials are subject to review and approval by OSPCD staff; no stucco or artificial materials are allowed.

If you wish to participate in the Commercial Property Improvement Program or would like additional information, please contact David Guzman, Program Coordinator, at the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development at 617-625-6600, extension 2546, or e-mail at dguzman@somervillema.gov for a complete set of guidelines and requirements. The City of Somerville will provide auxiliary services, written materials in alternative formats, and reasonable modifications in policies and procedures to persons with disabilities upon request.

 

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