MURRAY — So far, a program that was put in the fiscal year 2020 budget by the Murray City Council aimed at improving downtown buildings has not received the kind of attention for which officials were hoping.
This consists of $50,000 placed in the budget for both facade improvement for owners and a rent subsidy for tenants, through what the city has titled the “Historic District Facade Improvement Program (FIP).” However, there is still time — through June 30, to be exact — and City of Murray Mayor Bob Rogers said last week that he is confident this program will receive action before that deadline.
“We looked at a lot of other towns that have done something like this, so we put it together,” Rogers said. “It all came together for us to do it this year, now we need people to take advantage of it, and we’ve had a lot of people look into it, that have come and obtained packets with the information about it.”
City Administrator Jim Osborne said that between 12 and 15 people have obtained those packets, which leads him to believe that some of them will eventually take the step of applying to be part of the program and participate.
The main motivation, Rogers said, is simple – reviving downtown. This is expressed in the second full paragraph of the outline of the program. “The goal of this program is to stimulate growth through the establishment of new businesses with job opportunities and the encouragement of expansion and longevity and retention of existing businesses, while leveraging private investment, to bolster economic development and historic preservation within the City of Murray’s Historic District.”
“We’ve got some buildings there that could use some redoing, you know?” Rogers said. “It took us a while to get all of this into place, but downtown revitalization is something that people have been asking about quite regularly for a long time.”
In 2017, Murray Main Street led a charge on what was known as the Downtown Incentive Development program that offered five $1,000 allotments for business and homeowners of the city’s Historic District to use for improvements on their structures.
“We put a little more into (the city’s program). Now, I don’t know how many years we’ll be able to put it into the budget, but we put it in there this year,” Rogers said, adding that this was examined closely from a legal standpoint as well.
“(City Attorney) Warren Hopkins had to go over it with his fine-tooth comb to make sure it was something the city was allowed to do and do properly. After all, we read a lot of stories about people who don’t.”
“With any new program like this that you’re developing, you want to make certain that you’re meeting all of the legal standards, so we had to work closely with the city attorney and our planning department on this,” Osborne said. “You absolutely have to dot your i’s and cross your i’s on something like this because, ultimately, it is tax money you’re using.”
The FIP offers commercial property owners within the Murray Historic Overlay District a 50% matching forgivable loan (up to $10,000) to repair, maintain, update and improve their commercial buildings’ facades. The district extends from the railroad tracks at the east edge of downtown to Seventh Street and from Olive Street to Elm Street.
“Basically, you get $20,000 worth of work done for $10,000, and there’s quite a bit of traffic downtown. According to surveys, there’s about 2,000 people that work in the downtown area (though it is not clear if that included the 630-or-so workers no longer employed at the city’s Briggs & Stratton plant on Main Street).” Rogers said.
“There are several things with this that people have to do to qualify, but there are also a lot of safeguards built in for the city. I believe this is what is called a ‘non-reimbursable loan,’ where (participants) don’t have to pay back that loan if it’s approved up front and they meet all of the conditions.”
The rent subsidy incentive offers financial assistance in the form of reimbursement of rent payment of up to half of the business’ monthly rent, or $500 per month, depending on which costs less. Eligibility for assistance is up to six months, anytime within the first 18 months of business. The business also must sign at least a two-year lease and create at least one full-time equivalent job.
The city is also receiving assistance with this project from the Murray-Calloway County Economic Development Corporation, which will help evaluate applications that are received. In fact, all applications are to be submitted to the EDC, whose office is at 1104 Waldrop Drive in Murray.
“We do want them to use this money,” said City Councilwoman Pat Seiber, who is also the chair of the council’s Downtown Revitalization Committee. “These things are never quick and easy and it did take a little time to get this put together. Hopefully, people will be able to use this. We’re wanting this to go for the revitalization of downtown.”