Loan, Grant Programs Aim to Revitalize Downtown

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Facade Grant Program
This is an artist's rendering of what Hermiston Drug could look like with a new façade.

Umatilla Electric Cooperative’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) and Hermiston’s façade grant program aim to encourage economic growth in the community.

Hermiston Assistant City Manager Mark Morgan spoke about the RLF and the Hermiston Urban Renewal façade grant program at the Latino Business Network meeting Wednesday.

Morgan said the Revolving Loan Fund was started to promote job creation and retention in the Hermiston area specifically.

The RLF “essentially has the intention of loaning funds to people that create jobs by incentivizing them through lower interest rates than they can get through other traditional financing arenas,” said Morgan.

He explained that RLF loans “can be used for most things that traditional loans can be used for,” such as land, equipment, and even start-up capital costs.

These loans can be a minimum of $5,000 and a maximum of $360,000. Interest rates will not exceed the current prime rate as published in the Wall Street Journal, which, according to Morgan, was 3.25 percent as of Wednesday morning.

Morgan said that the federal government’s goal with this type of loan is to lend the funds to entities such as UEC and keep those funds circulating within the local communities.

“So you’re paying it back into UEC to be loaned out to make new loans and ultimately to create jobs,” he said.

Morgan also explained the façade grant program, the first phase of Hermiston’s Urban Renewal plan.

“The overall intention is to improve the visual appeal of the downtown area,” he said. The city staff hope that this program will encourage downtown business owners to invest in their buildings’ exteriors and that it will attract more business to Hermiston’s commercial core.

“This is purely a grant program,” Morgan said, “so it doesn’t need to be paid back; but there are certain requirements.”

Eligible properties must be within the designated Urban Renewal District. (For a map of the Urban Renewal Area, see the city of Hermiston Downtown Urban Renewal Report. These properties include existing commercial buildings under renovation, new commercial properties under construction, or existing residential properties that are being converted to commercial properties.

The façade grants will cover only external improvements such as restoration or installation of masonry or siding; repair or installation of windows, doors, awnings or decorative architectural elements; landscape or streetscape elements; and other exterior improvements as approved by the façade committee.

“That leaves us some flexibility,” Morgan says. “If you’re doing something creative and interesting with your façade that the committee ultimately sees as a benefit to the aesthetics of the downtown area, and ultimately drives up the value of the property and the surrounding properties, that could be funded, as well.”

The façade improvement committee’s vision is based on the architectural traits of the five existing downtown buildings that are on the National Register of Historic Places, Morgan said. These are the Bliss Building, the Carnegie Building, the Donovan Bland Building, the Hermiston Irrigation District Building and the Skinner Building.

The city has earmarked $500,000 for the façade grant program over the life of the Urban Renewal District. Morgan says the goal is to have $50,000 available for grants at the beginning of this next fiscal year (July 1). With those funds, in its first year the program can provide up to 50 percent of improvement costs for each of five projects at a maximum of $10,000 per project.

Funds cannot be granted retroactively. In order for the funds to be applied to the intended improvements, business owners applying for a grant must go through the planning process with the city before starting construction.

If a grant recipient hires a contractor, grant funds will reimburse for labor as well as materials. If he or she uses in-house labor, the grant will reimburse for materials only, Morgan said.

Cyndie Traner, owner of C&R Mercantile Company in Hermiston, expressed her preference that grant recipients be required to hire local contractors. “That helps encourage financial growth in our community,” she said.

Morgan said that the hiring of local contractors can be part of the discussion that business owners have with the staff at City Hall during the application process.

Debbie Pedro, president and CEO of the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, is excited about the façade grant program.

“What we’ve found is that when your downtown is inviting and has a certain look, it promotes livability within your community and will also promote more folks wanting to live here,” she said.

To learn more about the UEC Revolving Loan Fund, visit the UEC website or contact Morgan at 541-567-5521.

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