Leonard Johnson admits many run-down storefronts in St. Louis could use a facelift. He’d like to help “polish up” each and every one. But, for now, the director of the Neighborhood Commercial District Improvement Program only has a $1-million Community Development Block Grant to improve small-business facades. So, he plans to “spread the love” to businesses in the most underserved areas of the city.
“We understand that development happens downtown and in the central corridor,” Johnson said. “And it rarely spreads into north St. Louis or north city and even deeper in south city. We want to address that and be intentional about that, because that’s where our program had some shortcomings before.”
The Neighborhood Commercial District Improvement Program has been making grants to local small businesses for 20 years. In the past, grants were awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, Johnson said. However, this year, the program will give priority consideration to grant proposals from the five HUD-designated Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Areas. The neighborhoods are located in north and south St. Louis.
“We’re saying to businesses in those areas that we understand the decades of disinvestment that have happened around you,” Johnson explained. “And we want to be a part of that solution. So, we want to help you restore your properties.”
Businesses in the NRSAs with a high percentage of residents with low- to moderate-income (LMI) may qualify for 100-percent funding. In areas with lower LMI rates, businesses will be required to match grant funding dollar for dollar.
Colleen Clawson, owner of Milque Toast Bar in the McKinley Heights area, attributes her business’s success to getting one of the grants a few years ago. In 2014, Clawson had found a narrow space between buildings of a former motorcycle repair shop on south Jefferson. “The exterior was the largest part of the project, and the grant was a significant help in transforming this abandoned space.”
Three years later, her business has expanded to include a patio and garden, Crawson said. She said she thinks her storefront inspired neighboring businesses to improve their curb appeal. “Action begets action,” she said. “Once vacant spaces are occupied, lots of things cascade from that.”
Applications for a loan or grant from the Neighborhood Commercial District Improvement Program are due August 17.
The St. Louis Development Corporation is sponsoring three community meetings to discuss the grant-application process. Johnson encourages business owners and residents to attend. He believes fixing up facades can make a big difference in a neighborhood. “When people see new lighting or new signage or new awnings, it really becomes very inviting in those spaces, and you want to see what’s going on. And we’re hoping that’s going to happen throughout the city.”
Wednesday, July 25, 2018, 6 p.m. O’Fallon Park Rec Complex 4343 West Florissant, 63115
Tuesday, July 31, 2018, 2 p.m. William J. Harrison Center 3140 Cass Ave, 63106
Monday, August 6, 2018, 10 a.m. Thomas Dunn Learning Center 3113 Gasconade St, 63118
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