Bath is offering a facade improvement grant program to commercial and mixed-use property owners over the next three years. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

BATH — Commercial and mixed-use buildings in need of exterior improvements or buttoning up from the elements can benefit from a $300,000 initiative the city is offering over the next three years.

Through its new Facade Improvement Grant Program, the city will fund half the expenses, up to $10,000, for eligible projects. This year’s application deadline is Tuesday, Dec. 31, but the city will offer other funding rounds in 2020 and 2021, according to Assistant City Manager Marc Meyers. He had received four applications as of Dec. 19, with more expected right before the deadline.

Sagadahock Real Estate Association’s sale of its wealth of long-owned downtown buildings, which began in 2018, was a major factor in the city’s launch of the program, Meyers said. The effort is meant in part to boost Bath’s economic vitality and motivate private investment within the city’s commercial zones.

“We were looking at how can we be helpful to developers, or people taking over these properties, as they go in and look to make improvements,” Meyers said.

City officials had discussed the program over the past two years, but the timing of introducing it coincided well with the building turnovers, he said.

The city had run a facade grant program more than a decade ago using Community Development Block Grant funds. This time it will use sheltered funds through the Bath Iron Works tax increment financing district that are earmarked for economic development uses; funding will not come from taxes. About $100,000 will be dispersed in each of the next three years, with annual funding subject to the City Council’s approval during its regular budgeting process.

The property owner has to be the applicant, although the city encourages business owners who lease or rent space to work with that party in developing an application. Projects must be located in the Commercial 1, 2 or 4 districts, which includes properties along U.S. Route 1. Applicants must receive all necessary permits and approvals from the city to be eligible for funding.

Complete information is available at cityofbath.com/facade-grant. The city’s Economic Development Committee will review all applications at its January 2020 meeting, which projects due to begin that spring.

The project’s cost must be established prior to its start. The applicant will pay the full cost upfront and, once the project is complete, will submit an invoice to the city for reimbursement of half that cost, up to $10,000. With funding offered in three cycles over three years, more expensive projects could be proposed and accomplished in phases.

“Maybe you’re doing half the windows one year; you can come back and make another application for the second half,” Meyers said. “We’re trying to help property owners maximize the program.”

The program is geared largely toward historic buildings, which have older windows and doors that could be replaced with more energy-efficient models. “Those upgrades can be a very beneficial investment in our community,” along with aesthetic improvements, Meyers said.

New paint and shingling, and signage and awnings for businesses, are other potential improvements in the active downtown. Whereas the city once had many vacancies there, the occupancy rate is now at about 95%, Meyers estimated.

“I think the city’s in a really good place as far as downtown occupancy,” he said.

Amanda McDaniel, executive director of Main Street Bath, looks forward to seeing the improvements that blossom from the project.

“Any kind of grant opportunity to preserve what we have here is something that we should take every advantage of,” she said Dec. 20. Bath is “blessed to be able to have this chance, and anybody who can grab hold of it, and help keep these buildings functional and historic, should absolutely move on it.”

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