Facade Improvement Program

Applications are being accepted for remaining grant funds from round two of the Façade Improvement Program.  There are just enough funds to assist with one to two storefront rehabilitations and a few signs and awnings on Congress Street, between Washington Avenue on the east and Weymouth Street on the west.  Applications are due no later than Friday, September 25, 2015, at 3:00 p.m.
 
  Program Goal & Description
The City of Portland has established a Facade Improvement Program to help strengthen the revitalization of Congress Street. The program offers grant funds and design assistance to property and business owners to be matched by their equal or greater investment of private funds for the purpose of restoring / renovating commercial storefronts and replacing deteriorated or poor quality commercial signs and awnings. A Program Committee will evaluate applications to determine eligibility and, based on a set of criteria (listed below), make grant awards to those proposed projects that are determined will have the greatest impact on enhancing the targeted area.

Specific Objectives in Targeted Area
  • Encourage private investment in the visual improvement of storefronts, signs and awnings
  • Enhance the appearance of the streetscape
  • Reduce vacancies in storefronts and upper floors
  • Expand worker and shopper populations in the Arts District
  • Strengthen or restore the original character of historic buildings
  • Provide a catalyst for others to improve their buildings, signs, and awnings
Program Funding
The Facade Improvement Program is funded through the City of Portland’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program.

Grant for storefront facade improvement will fund half the cost of construction up to a maximum grant amount of $20,000, plus half the architect’s fee (at a rate of 9% of the grant amount) up to a maximum design grant  of $1,800. The grant recipient’s private match must provide a minimum of 50% of the cost of construction and a minimum of 50% of the architect’s fee. In addition to the required private match, the grant recipient is responsible for all project costs that exceed $40,000 for construction and $3,600 for architectural fees.

Grant for new sign or awning will fund 50% of the cost up to a maximum of $2,000. The grant recipient’s private match must provide a minimum of 50% of the cost of the new sign or awning. The grant recipient is responsible for project costs that exceed $4,000.

Sample Funding Scenarios
  1. Total cost of storefront facade improvement: $25,000
    • Grant - $12,500 for construction + $1,125 architectural fee = $13,625
    • Private Match - $12,500 for construction + $1,125 architectural fee = $13,625
  2. Total cost of storefront facade improvement: $50,000
    • Grant - $20,000 for construction + $1,800 architect’s fee = $21,800
    • Private Match - $30,000 for construction + $2,700 architect’s fee = $32,700
  3. Total cost of new sign or awning: $2,000
    • Grant - $1,000
    • Private Match -$1,000
  4. Total cost of new sign or awning: $5,000
    • Grant - $2,000
    • Private Match - $3,000
Applicants for the Portland Facade Improvement Program may also be eligible for the Maine Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Contact Mike Johnson at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission (207-287-2132) with any questions.

Eligibility for Facade Improvement Program
  • Eligible projects include commercial storefronts, signs and awnings that are located on Congress Street from Washington Avenue to Weymouth Street, and visible from the public way on Congress Street
  • The grant applicant must be a building owner or business owner leasing a storefront
  • Tenants must have the property owner’s signed approval for proposed projects
  • For sign and awning projects, tenant must have at least two years remaining in lease at location of proposed project and/or option to renew for at least two years
  • Each applicant may be awarded only one Facade Program grant
  • Building projects must be designed by a qualified design professional and signs must be produced by a professional sign maker
  • The project applicant must owe no outstanding property taxes, fees, judgments, or liens to the City of Portland and have no outstanding code violations
Ineligible Activities
  • Interior repairs not integral to the exterior facade improvement
  • New building construction
  • Purchase of property / equipment
Application Review Criteria
The Facade Improvement Program Committee (composed of city staff from economic development and historic preservation) will evaluate applications for eligibility and how effectively they meet the program criteria. It is anticipated that there will be more demand than available funds. Funding will be provided to those applications receiving the overall highest scores until the grant funds are exhausted.

Specifically, a project application will be scored on how well it meets each of the program criteria, using a rating scale from 0 (does not meet the criterion at all) to 5 (completely meets the criterion). A total point score will be based on the sum of the ratings. The criteria are as follows:
  • Degree of visual improvement the proposed project will bring to the storefront and the streetscape
  • Design Consistency / Compatibility with the standards/guidelines as follows:
    • For designated historic buildings and signs on these buildings: Consistency with the City of Portland Historic Preservation Ordinance Review Standards. These standards address building alterations as well as signs and awnings. To access them on line use the link above. Copies are available at City Hall in the Planning Office (Fourth floor). For assistance understanding and applying these standards contact Deb Andrews, Historic Preservation Manager (207-874-8726).
    • For non-historic buildings and signs on these buildings: Consistency with City of Portland Downtown Urban Design Guidelines. These guidelines address building alterations as well as signs and awnings. To access them on line use the link above. Copies are available at City Hall in the Planning Office (Fourth floor). For assistance understanding and applying these standards contact Deb Andrews (207-874-8726).
  • Visual prominence of the project building and its location.
  • Given limited program resources, additional points will be given to applications in which the private investment will be greater than 50% of the project budget
Submission Requirements
Applicants must submit an application with required attachments by 3:00 p.m., Friday, September 25, 2015 via email at nrh@portlandmaine.gov or dropped off at:

Economic Development Department
Portland City Hall
389 Congress St., Room 308
Portland, ME  04101

Applications will be considered only if they are filled out completely and include the following:
  • Description of the project goal
  • Explanation of the specific storefront improvements that you want to restore, rehabilitate, modify or replace with the grant and your match funds
  • Close up photograph of the storefront in its current condition, and another photo of the entire building facade including the buildings on each side of it
  • A preliminary sketch of the proposed improvements would be helpful but is not required at this time
  • Description of the private investment source that will be used to match the grant dollar for dollar (for example, applicant’s cash on hand and/or a bank loan)
Applicants are encouraged to contact Nelle Hanig at 207-756-8019 in the City’s Economic Development Department to discuss their projects prior to submitting an application.
 
 Process for Reviewing Applications
Upon receipt of Facade Improvement Program applications, the Program Committee will review each application for eligibility, determine its feasibility (including proposed private investment and total cost), and assign it a preliminary score based on the program criteria. Those that receive the highest scores will be designated Tier One applications. Meetings with each of the Tier One applicants will be scheduled with the Program Committee to discuss project design, budgets, matching funds and timelines. After these meetings, the Committee will determine final scores and award grants to those that score highest. A grant contract will then be provided to the applicant for signature. The applicant has one year to complete the project from the date the grant is approved.

Those with the second highest scores will be designated Tier Two applications. If funds remain after awards are given to the Tier One group or if a Tier One project for any reason is not able to meet program requirements, the Committee will schedule a meeting with the highest rated Tier Two project. The purpose of this meeting will be to provide guidance on modifications to the project design and feasibility to increase its score and, thereby, meet the objectives of the Façade Improvement Program. This project will then be considered for a grant award.

Conditions for Participation
Each applicant accepted for participation in the Facade Improvement Program will be informed of the grant award via a letter from the city. The applicant will be required to sign a contract with the city to the effect that the conditions of the City of Portland Facade Improvement Program are understood and will be abided by. Most of the project specific conditions include the following:

Storefront Projects
  • Architectural Assistance: Other than sign and awning projects, the Facade Improvement Program requires that all storefront projects use the services of a design professional. As noted in the Program Funding section, grant funds will be available to cover half of the design fees up to $1,800 at a rate of 9% of the grant amount. The remaining architectural fees will be the responsibility of the grant recipient.
  • Engineering Services: If the conditions of a storefront project require the assistance of an engineer, early on or after construction has begun, the cost of engineering will be the responsibility of the grant recipient.
  • Project Approvals: Storefront projects must comply with all applicable state and local permits. All design drawings must be reviewed and approved by the Program Committee. Some projects may also require Historic Preservation Board or Planning Board approval. All projects will be required to receive historic preservation approval from the State Historic Preservation Office. To apply for this approval, a defined scope of work including pictures, drawings or relevant product specifications will be needed.
  • Contractor Proposals: Program grant recipients must get three quotes from vendors prior to choosing a contractor. The construction proposal chosen by the grant recipient need to be reviewed and approved by the Program Committee for cost reasonableness and contractor qualifications. Contractor proposals should include scope of work, itemized project budget, timeline and qualifications. Projects that are under $1,000 will not need three quotes.
  • Contractors Compliance: Since the grant funds are federal monies, contractors will need to abide by federal wage rates and regulations (Davis-Bacon). The city will provide assistance with compliance. A certified payroll must be submitted with each invoice. If a project is over $50,000 the contractor should be bondable. If a project is over $100,000 the contractor should post a performance bond.
  • Pre-Construction Meeting: A pre-construction meeting with the Program Committee and Community Development Block Grant Manager is required prior to any work commencing on a storefront project.
  • Security Interest: Applicable city policy requires that the city obtain a security interest in the real property improved with CDBG funds, in the form of a promissory note and mortgage deed for five years from the time the project has been completed. If the building is sold before five years, a portion of the grant funds must be repaid. This repayment amount declines annually, for example, there is a 20% decrease per year for the five-year term. If the project has been modified within the five year period, the city may demand partial repayment of the grant funds on a pro rata basis.
Sign & Awning Projects
  • Bids and Approvals: Sign and awning projects that are $1,000 or more, must obtain quotes from three vendors. Contractor proposals should include scope of work, itemized project budget, timeline and qualifications. The final project design needs to be approved by the Program Committee prior to any work commencing, and must comply with all applicable state and local permits and approvals.
  • Improvement Protection: Signs and awnings must remain in place and unaltered for five years from the date the improvements are completed, per the grant agreement. If such improvements are removed or modified within the five year period, the city may demand partial repayment of the grant funds on a pro rata basis.
All Projects
  • Advance Payment: No grant or private funds may be paid in advance of work being performed.
  • Invoice Review and Approval: Prior to payment of any invoice for completed work, whether with private funds or grant funds, the invoice must be provided to the Program Committee for review and signed approval that work was completed per the approved drawings. Without this prior approval, grant funds will not be made available for a project. The final invoice will be paid after a Program Committee member has conducted a final inspection and signed off that all work has been satisfactorily completed. Each invoice must be from the grant recipient with all contractor, designer or supplier invoices attached, plus appropriate certified payroll (Davis Bacon) for the period of time covered by the invoices.
  • Payment of Private Match: Each grant recipient’s private funding match must be used in its entirety in payment of project invoices before grant funding is made available. Payment of invoices with grant funds will be done by check made out to the grant recipient and the contractor. The grant recipient will then endorse the check over to the contractor to fulfill payment for the invoice.
  • One-Year Completion: The project must be completed within one year from the date the grant award is approved.
The Facade Program is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant. All relevant federal regulation applies.

Please note that grant funds will not pay for expenses incurred prior to the grant award and prior to Program Committee approval of invoices.

Contacts for Facade Improvement Program
  • Nelle Hanig, Economic Development Department, at 207-756-8019
  • Deb Andrews, Historic Preservation, at 207-874-8726
  • Rob Wiener, Historic Preservation, at 207-756-8023