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Main Street improvements for Blue Earth

By Staff | Jan 21, 2008

Having and maintaining a vital business community are just two goals most city’s work hard at trying to achieve.

Blue Earth and business leaders have come to realize that a healthy downtown district starts with the condition of its buildings.

That’s why they joined forces and applied for a Small Cities Development Program grant last January.

City Administrator Ben Martig says the state’s Department of Economic and Employment Department approved $134,400 to fund up to 12 commercial rehabilitation projects.

“This is a pretty big deal. People are saying that Main Street is deteriorating and going down hill, and the city isn’t doing anything,” says Martig. “This shows the city is working to maintain the integrity of downtown.”

The city’s Economic Development Authority has earmarked $108,000 to help pay for the projects. In addition, the county’s EDA Revolving Loan Fund has chipped in another $34,600.

Byron Jost of Pettipiece & Associates of Mankato, who has been hired to administer the grant program, says response has been good with nine businesses seeking funds.

Because several “big” projects are still pending, Jost recently approached members of the city’s EDA board for more money.

“We have four projects that are going to be $100,000, and one is going to be over that,” says Jost. “The amount of money needed for those projects is going to exceed what the city and county has brought to the table.”

EDA board members unanimously voted to grant up to an additional $100,000.

“We have to be supportive at this point. Why wouldn’t we want to?” boardmember Peter Malecha said before the vote was taken. So far, three projects have been approved and work is should begin soon. The go-ahead for three more projects is anticipated soon.

While some of the projects are costly, work done might not be visible. Some projects will have roofing repairs costing from $5,000 to $100,000.

Improvements at Classic Cuts are expected to cost $23,850, while $71,148 will be spent to upgrade the H & R Block building and $22,857 at Sawyer Dentistry.

Randy Anderson, owner of the buildings housing Classic Cuts and H & R Block, says the structures are more than 100 years old and that he and his wife Deb want to do everything to preserve them.

“It seems foolish not to take advantage of the program. We want to maintain the community in any way we can,” Anderson says. “If everyone did a little bit, maybe our community will survive.”

Under the program guidelines, commercial property owners are required to pay 25 percent of the project cost, with up to 40 percent paid by the grant and 35 percent by a loan from the city.

Jost says the grant would have to be paid back if title to the property improved is transferred or the business is sold within 10 years of the date the repayment agreement was signed.

Meanwhile, the EDA has set aside $20,000 this year for the citywide commercial Building Facade Improvement Grant program.

Martig says grants are provided for exterior improvements including windows, doors, awnings, tuck pointing, signage and painting.

The grant helps pay for 33 percent of a project cost up to a maximum of $1,000.

Since the program was created in 2005 there has been private investment totaling more than $120,000 to match the $16,705 in grants awarded to 23 businesses.