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Downtown’s facade improvement program on hold

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GREENFIELD — A popular town program that has helped at least 10 downtown business and building owners repair and restore the facades of their buildings has been put “on hold” for the next couple of years.

The town’s facade improvement program will have to be reapproved by the state before it begins receiving money again. That means there won’t be money for building owners for at least two years.

The town began the program in 2008 by offering building owners $15,000 in Community Development Block Grant money, if the owners matched that with their own $15,000.

Alice Connelley, the town’s grants administrator, said when the town realized it was costing some owners more than $30,000 to do the repairs and restoration, Greenfield started paying 75 percent of the cost of improvements up to $45,000, leaving the owner to pay the rest.

According to Connelley, commercial rehabilitation is only covered by a Community Development Block Grant if the building facade to be restored is designated to be in a slum or blighted.

She said many downtown buildings were given that designation 10 years ago, but the designation expired recently and must be renewed, and that could take up to two years.

Connelley, who has been town grants administrator for the past four years, said 10 building facades have been repointed, repaired and cleaned up during that time. She said all of the work was done while preserving the historical integrity of each, as per requirements of the program.

The buildings that have already benefitted from the program include the former Abercrombie building on Bank Row, the former First National Bank building on Bank Row, the Arts Block and Pushkin Gallery, both on Main Street, the Maniatty block on the corner of Main and Chapman streets, the former E.A. Hall building, which houses the Connecticut River Watershed Council, on Bank Row, and Greenfield Garden Cinemas on Main Street.

“It’s a great program that has really helped revitalize some downtown buildings,” said Bradley McCallum, owner of the former Abercrombie building, which most recently benefited from the program. “It’s a small piece with a big impact. Just look at the buildings that have used the program. I hope more owners eventually take advantage of the program.”

Connelley said she plans to use money from the town’s 2013 block grant to hire someone to take an inventory of downtown buildings, which the state requires before it approves more money for the facade program.

The grant actually comes from the federal government, but is funneled through the state.

Greenfield has received between $800,000 and $1 million in block grant money the past several years. While the town has used some of that money for facade improvement, it has also used some to improve its parks, build playgrounds, repair sidewalks and help different social service agencies.

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