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Updated May 19 @ 2:19PM

Alpharetta grant program targets downtown storefronts

Façade fund rewards upgrades

Downtown Alpharetta business owners have spent close to $400,000 in recent years to improve the appearance of their storefronts. The upgrades have been spurred in part by a city-sponsored program providing grants for certain façade improvements.
Downtown Alpharetta business owners have spent close to $400,000 in recent years to improve the appearance of their storefronts. The upgrades have been spurred in part by a city-sponsored program providing grants for certain façade improvements.

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Visitors to Downtown Alpharetta – if they turn their attention away from City Center — may have noticed a flurry of new frontage over the past few years. That’s thanks in large part to a local program that provides grants for property improvements.

The city’s Downtown Beautification and Façade Improvement Grant Program is an economic initiative that helps Downtown District business and property owners with expenses associated with improving the appearance of their storefronts.

The program reimburses businesses for a portion of the cost for frontage improvements in four categories: structural building improvements; street furniture; awnings, lighting and similar accoutrements; and signage (excluding window signs).

During its seven years, the program has paid out almost $95,000 to downtown merchants for frontage improvements, according to Peter Tokar, Alpharetta Economic Development director. To qualify for those grants, he said, downtown business owners spent close to $400,000 in frontage upgrades – a return of 4 to 1 on the city’s investment.

“The façade grant only pays for beautification elements on the outside of the building,” Tokar said. “When you talk about total investment that it helped generate in the community, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Funding is administered through the Alpharetta Downtown Partners Program, and the city can restrict the amount of funds awarded and paid during any given fiscal year.

The idea behind the program is that capital improvements increase property values, adding to the commercial tax base and generating more revenue for the city. They also presumably bring in more customers who pay sales taxes on the meals they eat and the products they buy.

The grant program was also created to improve the appearance and historic character of Downtown Alpharetta through the addition of contributing architectural and aesthetic features.

“The improvements that all the downtown merchants are making are creating a more aesthetically pleasing downtown,” Tokar said. “So if you have a downtown that looks better, you have a downtown that people want to go to. They don’t want to go to a building that’s falling down and crumbling. We’re basically putting the makeup on the buildings to make them look better, and then the owners are making investments on the interior as well.”

Those interior improvements – which are not eligible for grant funds – have ranged in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Tokar said.

“The way the façade grant is structured, only certain things they do on the outside of the building qualify for the grant program,” Tokar said. “Interior buildout, like at South Main Kitchen and Butcher and Brew, all the work done inside – the tables, the remodel of the kitchen, the kitchen equipment – that’s not included in that number.”

The maximum award a business can receive is $17,250, and the biggest bang for the buck comes in structural improvements where the city can reimburse up to $15,000 of a $30,000 project. Smokejack restaurant received $16,000 in grant funds for its recent frontage upgrade. Made Kitchen & Cocktails received the grant maximum after spending more than $90,000 on qualifying façade elements.

This does not include the hundreds of thousands of dollars these businesses spent on the interiors, which do not qualify for the grant, Tokar said.

In order to qualify for the façade grants, businesses or property owners in the Downtown District must first do the work, then submit invoices for the qualifying projects. The city then cross references the invoices with the Code Enforcement Department and Planning Department to ensure they meet design and building standards.

Tokar said the grant is for upgrades only. Grant money will not help pay to replace a damaged window. If, however, you replace all the windows with energy-efficient windows, or storm windows that’s an upgrade.

“The grant is specifically made for them to do more than what is just required of them by code or by maintenance standards.” Tokar said.

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