City's facade improvement program expanded

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WESTBROOK — With the success of last year’s downtown facade improvement program, Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson is looking forward to expanding it in year two.

“We’ve been getting very positive feedback. It has been great,” Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson said.

The expansion, approved by the council at second reading May 6, sets aside $100,000 and makes more of downtown eligible.

The program was started last year as a way for the city to partner with downtown businesses and landowners interested in upgrading their properties by giving them up to $15,000 if they matched that total. Councilor Mike Foley has called it a “tremendous tool to leverage private investment,” 

Stevenson said the facade program does three things for Westbrook: it shows the city cares about the small business community, creates instant beautification in a visible area of the city and inspires building and business owners to take pride in their properties.

Abigail Cioffi, executive director of Discover Downtown Westbrook, which helped to facilitate the program, said the facade improvements have helped to revitalize downtown.

“The program gives property and business owners a chance to invest in the appearance of their buildings and storefronts. This creates a sense of place in the downtown district that leads to more customers in the long run. The facade improvements that have happened already have made an impact on the appearance of the downtown,” Cioffi said.

The council approval puts $100,000 into the followup effort: $50,000 in Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corporation funding and $50,000 through the capital improvement budget. 

Council President Gary Rairdon said the expansion will extend from Cumberland Mills down Main Street to William Clark Drive, “connecting with the existing facade area.” 

Stevenson said the interest in expanding the program was to include more of the downtown corridor. He said last year he received seven inquires from building or business owners interested in participating in the program, but were ineligible because they were outside the defined area.

In year two, the city will continue to work with Discover Downtown Westbrook to administer the program.

“By expanding the district, this allows a greater percentage of the downtown district to make improvements,” Cioffi said. “This is particularly important in Westbrook, where we have a fairly long Main Street that sometimes does not feel like a unified district. Plus, with more funding than we had in the first year, we can support numerous projects of all sizes, from sign improvements to complete facade renovations.”

Applications, Stevenson said, will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Through a $80,000 investment from the Westbrook Environmental Improvement Corporation, the initial program funded six projects The Swanson Group (new storefront, signage, awning, lighting), Westbrook Common (new windows, awning, doors), Full Court Press (signage and painting), Continuum for Creativity (signage and painting), Edwards Block (new Saco Bay Physical Therapy awning, exterior painting and new sign for Black Dinah Chocolatiers) and Pratt Insurance (signage, shutters, roof).

Projects at The Frog & Turtle (expansion to second floor and other upgrades), Mast Landing Brewing Company (signage), Legends Rest Taproom (signage), Fajita Grill and 825 Main St. (exterior upgrades) may also get portions of the remaining $32,800 in remaining funding for improvements at their sites.

Stevenson borrowed the idea for a facade improvement program from Biddeford, where he worked before coming to Westbrook in fall 2017.

Westbrook’s facade program can fund improvements to signage, awnings, storefronts, windows, doors and exterior lighting and facade cleaning and landscape work are some of the eligible projects. The funding cannot be used to purchase commercial property or equipment or for new building construction, routine maintenance or substantial interior work. Improvements must meet federal, state and local codes.

Michael Kelley can be reached at 780-9106 or mkelley@keepmecurrent.com or on Twitter @mkelleynews. 

The Downtown Westbrook Facade Improvement Program may be expanded to include a section of Main Street between Cumberland Mills and the intersection with William Clarke Drive and New Gorham Road.

Edwards Block before

The downtown facade improvement program has helped Tabitha Swanson redo the storefront of her building at 838 Main Street.

Through the parthership with the city, Swanson Group was able to install new windows, awnings, lighting and signage to give its building a more contemporary look.

After

With money from the Downtown Westbrook Facade Improvement Program, James Para, the owner of 1 Westbrook Common, subdivided a large space in the back of his building and added new doors and windows.

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