Main Street Portsmouth (MSP) is gearing up to help a new set of business owners preserve their downtown structures. Through MSP’s Building Improvement Grant Program (BIGP), many Boneyfiddle buildings will continue to stand as a testament to Portsmouth’s rich past and as a foundation for the future.
MSP Executive Director Joseph Pratt explained that the program offers a 50/50 matching grant to downtown property owners looking to make building renovations and improvements. Grants are awarded each spring. Though MSP has not even set a deadline for 2017, applications are already coming in.
“The pride business owners have for the historical properties in downtown is admirable,” Pratt stated. “In many cases, there is a lot of work to be done. We see business owners constantly striving to pour money into these properties to keep them standing for years to come. We are happy to assist in this when we can.”
BIGP first started eight years ago as a pilot program through Heritage Ohio, the organization that oversees Main Street program across the state. Heritage Ohio started the program in Portsmouth with a focus on historical preservation. The program worked so well that it is now a common program in many Ohio communities.
Seeing the impact on the downtown, the City approached MSP early on, asking to continue the program. Since that time, BIGP has been entirely funded through City investments.
“As to the agreement with the City of Portsmouth, Main Street Portsmouth receives $50,000 a year,” Pratt explained. “Nearly all of it instantly goes back into development.”
MSP awards $25,000 of city funding in building improvement grants each year. $15,000 of the funding then goes into downtown design elements including mulch, flowers, urns, pots, watering contracts, park upkeep and nearly all other downtown beautification work. The remaining $10,000 goes into MSP’s general fund to be used for events and overhead.
“To date, the city has given us over $200,000 for the program and has caused reinvestment improvements totaling over $500,000,” Pratt stated.
Though the funding has gone to assist with many worthwhile projects, Pratt says more projects keep popping up.
“We are seeing a greater need to expand that amount, not necessarily through City funding,” Pratt said as he described the downtown “renaissance” he has been witnessing.
“Chillicothe Street was pretty much quiet, and Second Street was salt and peppered with businesses,” he explained about the time prior to the start of the grant program.
Pratt says Second Street is now nearly at capacity and the increase to business on Chillicothe Street has it looking more how Second Street did years ago. He added that businesses are no longer only interested in occupying the first floor of structures and are now building up, finding uses for all stories of Portsmouth’s historic downtown.
“We are just getting to the point where we are seeing all this development,” Pratt commented. “We have developers filling buildings that have never been used in my memory.”
To help with this development, MSP awarded grants to five projects in 2016.
“Last year was a record year,” Pratt said.
In 2016, MSP had 18 applicants for the BIG program. Of those, 16 were considered.
“We had many more requests than we had dollars to give,” Pratt explained.
Recipients of the 2016 Building Improvement Grant Program included:
Helen Wells’ Brain Freeze property awarded $2,243 to replace antique doors;
Ghosts in the Attic property awarded $8,350 to replace the roof;
Portsmouth Cement and Lime awarded $10,203 to assist in a plethora of exterior projects, including paint, roofing and cupola;
Journey Within awarded $5,250, for facade security and window replacement;
Sandy Wilburn’s Fifth Street property for point tucking and paint.
“The work totaled downtown reinvestment to the sound of $70,087.90,” Pratt confirmed.
He added that while some projects were awarded the full 50 percent of total funding needed, some were awarded smaller amounts due to funding limitations. Those awarded more were projects that needed to maintain the longevity of the building, which are given priority.
Once all grant applications have been turned in, a board rates projects based upon benefit to business, employee counts, initiative shown by property owners, importance to maintaining the structure and several other factors.
Because so many downtown buildings have been lost in recent years due to lack of upkeep, projects that involve roofs, point tucking and stability take precedence; however, even beautification projects are awarded.
“This program has assisted in scores of property development, everything from roofing and important structural support to awnings and paint,” Pratt commented. “It is overwhelming to look at the progress made through this program. In many significant downtown developments, Main Street and the City of Portsmouth have been able to play a role in helping, thanks to our volunteers and grant program.”
The application process is lengthy; however, once completed business owners have a better tool for their project.
“To receive a grant, applicants must submit formal plans, color schemes, approval from the design and review board, budgets, and more to show responsible planning and goodwill of keeping the structure historically relevant,” Pratt explained.
However, applicants are not in the process alone. MSP can offer varied assistance, even including contact with the City’s design and review board.
“There’s a long list of tools available,” Pratt stated. “We want to help people make this an easy process.”
Because property owners put so much work into their project in order to even qualify for the grant, Pratt says that even those who are not funded push forward.
“What we see from those who don’t receive a grant, often times because we get so many and have limited funds, is that they continue with their plans, because they’ve already done the legwork and planning,” Pratt explained. “For instance, business owner Becky Marasek has a property on Court Street. As much as we wanted to help in her project, we had only $25,000 to award. She was high on our list. I was so happy to see her project completed, even without our assistance. In fact, she completed her project before any of the grant recipients did. It shows the respect and dedication these people have for their properties. Also, the property on Court and Second, containing River Town Antique Mall had issues with their application that cut them from being considered. It was a mishap we hated, but the owner of the business didn’t let it stop his work. He not only completed what he asked us for on his own, but much more.”
MSP is also willing to help and advise property owners that are not seeking grant funding or who would not qualify for the program because work is interior, there is a lien on the property or there are property taxes owned. Pratt explained that MSP is eager to help all property and business owners to thrive in anyway they can be of assistance.
“Main Street is currently accepting grants and the committee is in the process of forming to look over submissions. The grants must be exterior projects only. The committee scores each application on need, merit, and value, and decides where the funds are best spent to maintain historical relevance and encourages downtown traffic. Call MSP at 740.464.0203 or visit mspohio.org. MSP is also available by email, most reliably, at email@example.com,” Pratt confirmed.
Grant applications can be found by visiting the organization’s website under the properties tab.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.