April 19, 2021

Facade improvement program gives Jasper County storeowners an opportunity to upgrade

Supervisors support Davidson’s proposal, yet to be approved by JEDCO board

Jeff Davidson, executive director of Jasper County Economic Development Corporation (JEDCO), proposed a new facade improvement program could increase the taxable values of commercial properties, create and retain jobs and make the small town communities of Jasper County more desirable. Davidson presented the program to the Jasper County Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday, gaining support for the idea.

Even with the county board of supervisors’ support, the Jasper County Facade Improvement Program has yet to be approved by JEDCO’s Board of Directors. However, Davidson told supervisors he received positive reactions from JEDCO board members — who represent each community — about the idea.

JEDCO will be seeking approval from its board on April 20. The final draft of the facade improvement program is subject to change.

“We are trying to improve businesses and, hopefully, create jobs,” Davidson said. “I’m very hopeful we could possibly develop a program where a building that’s in somewhat derelict condition would be part of revitalizing it to the point where a new business could be established.”

The program is open to eight JEDCO communities: Baxter, Colfax, Kellogg, Lynnville, Mingo, Monroe, Prairie City and Sully.

Davidson said Newton is excluded from the list because the city has its own downtown facade grant programs. Jasper County’s program would require a one-to-one-to-one match from applicant, the city and JEDCO. If successful, a property owner could secure up to $10,000 to improve their storefront.

Essentially, a $10,000 project would become a $30,000 project, Davidson said.

Eligible improvements include cosmetic and/or structural improvements, outside lighting, accessibility, windows, doors, awnings and signage not including billboards. Davidson stressed routine repairs and maintenance are ineligible uses for the facade improvement program.

Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma created a scenario where a business owner let their building deteriorate, suggesting the person would not be able to receive a grant. Davidson said it depends. If all the property owner is going to do is caulk windows and repair doors, then no.

“But if you’re going to replace windows, replace doors, do a complete re-do of the front of the building, maybe take an old aluminum skin off and restore the brick that’s underneath, then you would be eligible,” Davidson said. “We want to focus on what’s publicly visible from the street and not so much internal.”

Some responsibility will inevitably fall onto the individual cities participating in the program. The municipalities would ultimately serve as the applicant for the county’s facade improvement grant, but it would be up to a private individual who owned a building to meet with the city first and manage the details.

Although Davidson proposed the maximum grant to be $10,000, he suspects JEDCO will review projects costing much less than that. The amount is also based on the city’s willingness for match funding. Davidson suggested the program open with $50,000 in funding.

“I don’t think we’ll get five $10,000 projects,” Davidson said. “I think we get — hopefully — more, smaller projects. The towns are really eager for a program like this.”

All projects are subject to the individual city’s local rules and ordinances.

“Colfax has a historic district in their downtown. So in Colfax, if you submit a project it has to adhere with the requirements of that historic district,” Davidson said. “Monroe doesn’t have a historic district, so there would be no such requirements in Monroe.”

JEDCO may be the benefactor of the grants, but Davidson does not want the organization to control the projects. Instead, Davidson wants to see the municipalities determine what projects are appropriate for their communities. The Jasper County Board of Supervisors concurred.

“I don’t want JEDCO to receive an application that doesn’t have the blessing of the local city government, and that’s the way we got this set up,” Davidson said.

Davidson said JEDCO wants to make the communities better places to live, noting Jasper County is competing with the Des Moines metro. The organization is trying to attract people who are possibly employed in or have some connection to the metro but want to live in one of Jasper County’s “bucolic” communities.

“The better we can our small towns, the more chance we have at attracting those people,” he said. “We have strong school districts (and) a lot of the other pieces to that recipe, but we need to try and make our towns as good as possible. The downtown is kind of the heart of all the small towns to some degree.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.