A program that has helped downtown building owners on both sides of the Brazos River spruce up their storefronts is up for an expansion.

The downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone board on Thursday recommended $150,000 for the Façade Improvement Grant program in the next city budget year.

The TIF Zone, which funds downtown improvements through a dedicated portion of downtown property taxes, has allocated $275,000 for the façade program since 2009, with $109,547 spent.

Megan Henderson of City Center Waco, which runs the grant program and asked for the extra money, said it has made a difference in the attractiveness and vibrancy of the TIF Zone.

“It distributes the impact of the TIF funds that we have,” Henderson told the TIF board. “We hear a lot about new projects coming in getting the TIF funds, and what about the little guy? This is a program available to everybody, including a lot of businesses that have been around a while.”

Past recipients include the old Curry Office Supply building at 611 Washington Ave., Sorrells & Co. at 518 Austin Ave., Fuzzy’s Taco Shop at 215 S. University Parks Ave. and Barnett’s Pub at 420 Franklin Ave., as well as Marilyn’s Gift Gallery and the Jockey Club barber shop on Elm Avenue.

Those projects have added about $300,000 of improvements in the TIF Zone at a public cost of $109,547, city officials said.

More than $384,268 in façade improvement grant funding is committed for a Re/Max real estate building at 522 Austin Ave., the Clay Pot building at 416 Franklin Ave. and Simply Irresistible boutique at 1018 Austin.

Henderson said the nonprofit City Center Waco can turn around grants within a few weeks, in amounts ranging from $500 to $45,000. The business must fund at least half the project.

Henderson said City Center Waco uses the program both to accelerate rehab efforts and to steer them toward designs that are aesthetically appropriate for a historic downtown.

“You get to have conversations with property owners, and in almost all cases there’s some back and forth,” she said. “In some cases we say, ‘That’s a fantastic proposal,’ or ‘I would not recommend investing in that.’ ”

City Center Waco also runs the Waco Main Street program, allowing it to connect property owners with free historic preservation design services from the Texas Historical Commission.

In a recent case, the state experts recommended adding back some mid-century flair to a one-story building on Austin Avenue, including a horizontal stripe, a recessed entry and even neon.

Robert Denton, construction consultant on the Simply Irresistible building, said the grant program was a major consideration in the painstaking historic restoration of the façade at 1018 Austin Ave. The building houses an upscale boutique selling apparel, antiques, modern furniture and home décor.

The construction project removed a dilapidated, 1960s-era sheet metal façade from the old Hometown Printing building, exposing a classic 1920s storefront. The owners, headed by attorney Don Lynn, decided to do a painstaking restoration that involved restoring old tile work, restoring transom windows and awnings, bleaching faded brick and repairing damaged stone medallions.

“We probably wouldn’t have taken it on if we hadn’t gotten TIF assistance,” Denton said. “Most developers would probably have just stuccoed over all those areas.”

The $150,000 that the TIF board approved Thursday would add to an existing façade fund that has $43,053 in uncommitted funds. The Waco City Council will have the final say on the funding increase.

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J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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