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Norway eyes $600K downtown grant
NORWAY — A library with lead paint. An art gallery with a sagging second floor. Unrentable storefronts in the Opera House. A Gingerbread House without adequate parking.
These aren't structures on the Island of Misfit Toys. They're buildings on Main Street, and town leaders say that they need help.
Main Street may be bouncing back, but that doesn't mean there aren't major obstacles to be overcome. Recognizing this, town leaders are considering a major leap forward in the ongoing effort to revitalize Main Street.
They are weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a massive, $600,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) which would address all of the problems above, and more.
"It's a key opportunity, right now with the recession, that this is one of the driving forces behind economic activity that's happening in downtowns right now," said Terry Ann Stevens, who spoke to various interested parties during a meeting of the Board of Selectmen.
CDBGs are often used to fund individual projects, but they are capped at $150,000. The larger amount is offered through a Downtown Revitalization program, which typically is awarded to one Maine town every year.
"It allows you to do ... infrastructure projects, the public facilities things," said Stevens. "You could do housing, you could do things like facade projects, like painting."
Winning the grant would be huge, but taking part in a year-long process to qualify and apply for the money could divert energy away from exploring other avenues. A community that fails to qualify might be left with a list of needed plans, and no way to fund them.
A successful application, says Stevens, will include an overall plan and vision for the downtown in question, large amounts of community input and support, and other financial resources coming into play.
Stevens said that Norway appears to meet the criteria for the program.
"[These are] all things that Norway has going for it," she said.
Stevens said that Norway is in a good position to apply for the grant.
"You have a fantastic historic village," she said. "It's really an incredible asset, something that many people would love to have."
Last year, three communities competed for the award, including Richmond, Rockland, and Gardiner. Rockland successfully won the grant "by a nose," said Stevens. "It was the closest scoring I can remember."
"It is a very very competitive program." said Stevens.
For the 2011 cycle, Gardiner and Rockland have returned, as well as Madawaska and Presque Isle.
Town Manager David Holt said that the road to the grant would be a long one.
"About a year from now, you'd have to have your grant application finalized," said Holt. "This is not something that happens in a month."
"It takes a lot of effort and planning," she said.
The application would not be submitted until March 2012. Presumably, the towns that are unsuccessful this year would be returning for the following year, which would place them in competition with Norway.
The local community would have to raise at least $150,000 in matching money to qualify for the grant.
Another requirement is to demonstrate that the project will help 51 percent or greater "low/moderate income persons," or be used to prevent or eliminate "slum or blighting conditions."
During the discussion, a representative of the Western Maine Arts Center on Maine Street said that the group would like to seek CDBG funding to renovate and update its historic building, while preserving its historical appearance.
"Our goal is to create a fully modernized building that is safe and built to current specifications and codes," she said, "because it has a floor upstairs that's very weakened, and a side wall that could collapse."
Steve Veazey, the treasurer of the library's board of directors, said that the library has some major maintenance costs that will outstrip the library's budget.
"The building goes back to 1938," said Veazey, "... Back at that time, they were using lead paint, so there are some new requirements relative to painting surfaces that have lead paint in them."
Veazey estimated that the painting alone would cost between $20,000 and $30,000.
The library's east side is having drainage issues on the east side of the building, just two years after fixing drainage issues on the west side of the building.
"The east side of the building is going to be a bigger project, because on the east side, we have a porch and an entry door and a sidewalk that runs all back to the parking lot that will all have to be removed," said Veazey. "It's going to be a pretty big project." He estimated $10,000 to $12,000 in costs.
Since 1982, Maine has distributed nearly $440M in CDBG funds, according to information from the state Office of Community Development.