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City puts focus on downtown incentives

052419Kevin-Harris

Kevin Harris, Rocky Mount business development manager talks about downtown financial incentives on Tuesday during a seminar at the Booker T. Theater.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Rocky Mount has an aging downtown and many neglected buildings, but a city official is quick to point out the municipal government has financial incentives to help stimulate rehabilitation efforts.

City Business Development Director Kevin Harris spoke about three such programs in place at a downtown revitalization seminar at the Booker T. Theater earlier this week. Municipal officials apparently want to re-generate interest in upgrading the central business district.

Harris said the city has the Downtown Building Assistance Grant Program. Additionally, Harris said the city can offer accelerated facade grants and downtown development incentive grants.

Harris said the Downtown Building Assistance Grant Program offers a refund of 50 percent of the cost of improvements, up to a maximum of $20,000.

He said the grant not only can help with the cost of improving a building but also can aid an on-going business by helping fund the costs of equipment and signage.

He also pointed out the city wants to encourage residential development downtown, so the grant can be used to help a commercial or a mixed-use location.

The location has to be in what is called the Downtown Transitional Area.

The area is bordered by Grace Street, Raleigh Boulevard, Rose Street, Lexington Street, Goldleaf Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and Grand Street.

The location has to conform to Rocky Mount historic preservation guidelines and an applicant can only receive one grant per property within five years.

As part of the process, a central city revitalization panel serves in an advisory capacity and there will be a site inspection.

The project has to be completed within six months of the grant being awarded. At the end of the project, the applicant has to apply for an occupancy certificate.

The Accelerated Facade Grant Improvement Program has already received much attention.

Mayor David Combs, at the municipal government’s retreat in February, suggested reviving efforts to improve downtown storefronts by granting $5,000 each to applicants who qualify.

The City Council liked the idea so much municipal staff was told to put a study of implementation on a fast track and the program was rolled out later this spring.

Harris said the grant applies to a smaller area of downtown, which is called the Central City Business District.

That area is bordered by Franklin Street, Andrews Street, Raleigh Boulevard, Washington Street, Marigold Street, Arlington Street, Atlantic Avenue, Goldleaf Street and Falls Road.

While Harris said people needs to provide a photograph of the property and a list of the work proposed, the application is only one page and the city seeks to respond within three days.

Harris also spoke about the Downtown Development Incentive Grant, which is a rebate to help cover increases in what people pay in property taxes after renovating a structure.

He said the incentive is for five years, but on a scale, with the city providing 100 percent coverage the first year and the coverage declining to 20 percent by the fifth year.

The location can be a commercial or mixed-use property.

The location has to be within the Municipal Service District, which has a special tax to pay for projects and services in that area.

The district is bordered by Pearl Street, Hammond Street, Franklin Street, Andrews Street, Southwest Main Street, Howard Street and Falls Road.

Harris said the work at a location has to be a substantial rehabilitation and said the project must be completed within two years of the grant being awarded.

And Harris said the investment should equal three times the pre-improvement tax value of the property.

He also said the city is working on an incentive program to help people with the cost of roofing work.

He said the concern is about the logic of awarding facade grants while a structure’s roof has major problems or is not secure.

Harris said City Hall is going to be taking a firm stance against property owners with dilapidated locations who are not making improvements or repairs.

Specifically, Harris said the city has taken the demolition by neglect regulations off the shelf.

Demolition by neglect gives a local government the power to seek a list of corrective measures against the owner of a structure either abandoned or not maintained.

Harris said the city has sent letters advising owners of downtown properties of the financial incentives but also giving them a hint the municipal government is going to start looking more closely at code enforcement.

Although he was not more specific, he said the city has identified structures the municipal government wants to aggressively move on.

“And we’re going to do that,” he said. “That is the other piece that’s needed downtown.”

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