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Toledo seeks more funds to bring old storefronts back to life

Posted By: The Toledo Blade on March 13, 2023.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.


The city of Toledo wants to expand two grant programs that have made it financially viable for the owners of long-vacant neighborhood commercial buildings to bring them up to code and get them back into productive use.

The city’s economic department plans to ask city council on Tuesday to consider a proposal to add $300,000 this year to a so-called “white box” program. The program makes matching grants of up to $75,000 available for the installation of fire suppression and accessibility for the disabled to bring first-floor commercial spaces into code compliance.

A total of $500,000 awarded last year to seven white box projects around the city primed the pump for more than $6.7 million in private investment to previously vacant storefronts, said Sandy Spang, deputy director of economic development for the city.

The department also wants council’s blessing for $320,000 this year in general funds spending to provide façade grants to business owners, she said. The $410,000 allocated last year to 12 projects leveraged $5.1 million in private-sector investment.

The program expansions are up for discussion at Tuesday’s council agenda review meeting.

The white box grant program was funded last year by a $500,000 American Rescue Plan Act allocation. The economic development department is asking for the money from the general fund this year.

The Neighborhood Health Association of Toledo Inc. was awarded a $75,000 white box grant to get its previously vacant building at 12 N. St. Clair St. ready for an apothecary, or pharmacy with a throwback theme, said Shane Douglas, the association’s chief operating officer.

An apothecary aligns with its location in the Warehouse District of downtown featuring historic buildings, said Mr. Douglas of the association, a seven-clinic federally qualified health center. The building is across the street from Fricker’s and Fifth Third Field.

The grant helps defray costs in bringing the building up to code and making it accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a chairlift, bathroom, and elevator. Mr. Douglas said the project is just getting started, with the selection of a general contractor upcoming.

The apothecary is slated to open early in 2024 in the first-floor storefront. The organization, which provides a full range of health care and wellness services to mostly low-income patients, is working with the city to determine whether it can rehab the upper two upper floors for residences, he said.

“We certainly couldn’t make these projects possible without the support of our community partners and grants,” Mr. Douglas said.

The nearest pharmacy to the planned apothecary is more than two miles away, Mr. Douglas said. Residents from outside of downtown may be drawn to the location, he said.

Ms. Spang said the grants are a crucial bridge for making projects financially viable. They are 30 percent matching grants, with up to $75,000 available under the program per project. Awardees fund the work upfront, then are reimbursed under the program, she said.

Those projects can be a catalyst for further revitalization in the surrounding neighborhood, she said. They also can help bring historic buildings back to life.

Ms. Spang said interest is high in both the white box and façade grant programs. The maximum façade grant is $40,000 with a 50 percent match.

In making the white box grant request of $300,000 for 2023, the department received 31 submission forms for projects. The money will fund only four of those projects. With the $320,000 requested for façade grants, the city can fund eight projects out of 58 submissions of interest, she said.

Matt Rubin and Julia Randles, the executives behind Toledo-based Crane Development, were approved last year for a white box grant to upgrade their downtown building at 617 Adams St. That storefront is currently being built out by outdoor outfitter Ridge & River.

It will be the first retail store for Ridge & River owners Kyle Boyers and Connor Scott, who grew up in Toledo and have run the business as an online shopping site.

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