McHenry facade grant program facing potential upgrades

Historic program has not been widely used, city says

The morning sun pokes through the changing autumn leaves as a man mows the grass next to DC Cobbs and the McHenry Downtown Indoor Theater, along the Fox River at the McHenry Riverwalk on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020 in McHenry.

In the 21 years that Doug Martin has been McHenry’s economic development director, he hasn’t seen many businesses take advantage of the city’s facade improvement program.

He hopes that a redesigned program, offering more help to businesses in both the downtown and its tax increment finance district, will change that.

“I believe the program has been underutilized and not taken advantage of, but I believe there were shortcomings in the program,” Martin said.

Martin presented a revised version of the facade program to the city council at its Sept. 6 meeting. The council made further suggestions to improve the program for him to bring it back to a future meeting, Martin said.

One of the council suggestions was to ensure businesses on the city’s major arteries, including Route 120, were included in the facade improvement proposal, as well as sides of buildings not facing main roads, Martin said.

Alderman Sue Miller, 7th Ward, asked for a limit on how many businesses could apply each year, making it competitive in nature and adding in “the backside for the Riverside walk program.”

Martin added language that would allow businesses with sides facing McHenry’s Riverwalk, parks and courtyards to also receive grant funds — whether that side is the business’ “front” or not.

“I believe this gives a presence for the building having two front facades,” Martin said — one toward the street and one facing the river.

“That is part of the the benefit and the promotion of this program, to have facades along the Riverwalk and enhancing those facades that do face the river,” he said.

Martin also wants to increase the amount of money available.

The program that has been in place offered up to $5,000, and only covered business front facades. It also gave preference to facade upgrades that brought the building back to a more historically-accurate design, Martin said.

The new proposal would offer a dollar-for-dollar matching grant regardless of which side needs the upgrade, Martin said. “It is meant to provide a great incentive for businesses to improve their buildings,” Martin told the board.

From 1 to 40 feet of linear frontage would be eligible for up to $10,000. From 41 to 80 feet would be eligible for up to $20,000, and 81 feet and above would be eligible for $30,000 in matching funds.

The average size is about 33 feet, Martin said.

Included in facade improvements would be new or repaired windows and doors, exterior demolition and construction, tuck pointing, painting, gutters, downspouts and awnings.

Signage only would be included if it is part of a “more extensive renovation project, not as a stand-alone request,” Martin said.

Businesses would apply for the facade grant and the council would approve any requests, he added.