(Edgerton, WI) By Jake Magee, Gazette
In 15 years, Edgerton has never seen a response like this.
Work on downtown buildings is exploding this summer and will continue through the fall thanks to an incentive program that pays for more than half of the work.
It's called Paint Edgerton, and downtown property owners are lined up to take advantage of it.
The 15-year-old façade grant program normally pays 40 percent up to $5,000 of any work property owners want to do to the exterior of their historic buildings in downtown Edgerton. For the first time, the city decided to up that ante to 60 percent.
The number of grant applicants multiplied tenfold. In the past, the city received two or three grant applicants per year. This year, more than 20 properties are set for or have completed work.
“It's crazy,” City Administrator Ramona Flanigan said. “We were astounded and really happy.”
“We were both ecstatic,” added Jim Kapellen, Edgerton Redevelopment Authority chairman. “People are taking advantage of it.”
Many owners aren't afraid to spend $15,000 or more on building projects, knowing the city will only cover up to $5,000.
Applications were due May 20. Any applications that came in after that were still eligible for the grant program, but only at the regular 40 percent city funding rate.
The city originally encouraged work to be finished by July 4, but that quickly proved difficult. Very few property owners could get busy contractors hired and working by mid-summer, Flanigan said.
Now, work has a soft deadline of Oct. 31, meaning by November, downtown Edgerton will be a sight to see.
The Paint Edgerton program came together shortly after the redevelopment authority formed. The authority is in charge of development in the downtown tax increment financing district, said Jim Kapellen, authority chairman.
The authority set to work right away.
“We were trying to talk about what we saw was wrong, what needed to be done downtown, and one of the things that came up was the buildings look a little shabby,” Kapellen said.
The authority helped create the façade grant program, which is modeled after similar programs hundreds of other municipalities use, Flanigan said.
The program originally started with a budget of about $10,000. In the program's first year, the city spent about $4,000, Kapellen said.
This year, the city will pay more than $69,000 for downtown property projects.
“Our balance sheet as far as cash flow is looking good,” Kapellen said of the TIF district.
Typically, a façade refers to the side of the building facing a street. When the program began, the authority encouraged property owners to spruce up windows, doorsteps and entrances—things facing the street.
Now, the city defines a façade as any exterior of a building or, sometimes, the interior as well. Typical work includes painting, tuckpointing, roofing, the installation of air conditioning and heating units and electrical work. The broad definition encourages more property owners to get their buildings into shape.
“We've really expanded it to just about what they wanna do on their building, as long as it stays there,” Kapellen said.
Keeping the buildings standing is a priority for the city but so is maintaining their historical integrity, Kapellen said.
For instance, property owners who want to touch up the paint on their buildings must adhere to a historical paint chart provided by the Edgerton Historical Preservation Commission, said Mark Wellnitz, commission chairman.
Despite the name Paint Edgerton, the city encourages property owners to do work that isn't easy to see, such as masonry touch-ups. Without such maintenance, buildings deteriorate.
“Our goal is to get people to fix things that will make the buildings stand for a long time,” Flanigan said.
The commission must approve major architectural changes before work can be done, Wellnitz said, but such meetings haven't been necessary recently.
Owners are prohibited from making improvements that take away a building's historic character. When new windows are installed, they must look similar to the original ones in size and shape.
The city won't help fund work that won't last. For instance, the program won't pay for a property owner to add a new kitchen to their restaurant because the next property owner might change the building into something other than a restaurant, Kapellen said.
“We fund projects that bring the building up to code or repair things that need to be done or make them more energy efficient because those things will be there whether the present owner is there or not,” he said.
One business taking full advantage of the program is C&M Printing. The owners, Mike and Jeanette Londerville, poured nearly $20,000 into two of their three buildings at 102 and 104 W. Fulton St. The city will cover about $9,000 of that.
Contractors painted the buildings' trim, replaced several windows, installed two new signs and did some tuckpointing. Last year, the Londervilles had a roof fixed up for $35,000 without going through Paint Edgerton, as they were unaware the program would help pay for it.
“That was probably our mistake because we didn't check into it,” Jeanette said.
Early this year, the Londervilles received a letter from the city explaining the jump in the Paint Edgerton program and applied for grants right away.
“I was like, 'Wow, look at these people that applied,'” Jeanette said of the list of applicants. “It did jumpstart a lot of people, I think. An extra 20 percent makes a big difference.”
The building at 102 W. Fulton St. originally was a tobacco exchange bank. The Londervilles purchased it in the late 1970s. The 104 W. Fulton St. building was an antique shop when the couple purchased it in 2005, but it started as a clothing store.
Looking at them now, they maintain that same historical character.
“It (the work) really improves the overall look. It's a lot more inviting when you walk down the street,” Jeanette said.
Whether Edgerton offers the incentive next year is yet to be determined.
“It's nice when you get a response like this and go, 'Wow we finally hit the right trigger,'” Kapellen said.