Orono begins push for new downtown storefront revitalization grant

People walk own Mill Street in downtown Orono in August 2011.
People walk own Mill Street in downtown Orono in August 2011. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 28, 2012, at 7:02 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Business owners and town officials are pursuing a new funding source to help spruce up downtown storefronts about five months after another bid for a grant failed.

The town has received approval to submit an application for a Community Enterprise Grant through the Maine Office of Community Development’s Community Development Block Grant Program, according to Town Planner Evan Richert.

The grant awards up to $150,000, with a maximum of $25,000 for individual businesses, to go toward community improvements, including facade makeovers.

There are two main ways to get the grant, according to Richert. The first is to classify the entire downtown district as “slum or blighted,” which business owners and town officials weren’t about to do.

“We just didn’t think that was the case in downtown Orono,” Richert said.

The second, more palatable, option is to show “spot blight,” or that individual buildings are showing their age, obsolete or deteriorating, he said.

“There are things that are completely outdated and there are some problems, but overall it’s a very lively little district,” Richert said.

In September 2011, Orono was denied a DECD facade improvement grant after 13 business owners agreed to invest a total of about $200,000 on upgrades for their buildings. That grant would have matched each business’s contribution.

Most businesses still planned to go ahead with their projects, but at a slower pace and on a smaller scale.

Richert said this Community Enterprise Grant would match the amounts invested by each business, allowing them to do more faster.

Orono’s downtown image will change drastically in coming years, with a new landmark building that will serve as University Credit Union’s headquarters expected to break ground in late 2012 or early 2013 at the former Katahdin Building site.

“This could be another piece of the puzzle that would enhance the downtown,” Richert said of the facade revitalization effort.

The application deadline is March 30, and Richert said he plans on meeting this week with seven business owners interested in projects to alter the appearance of their storefront or improve energy efficiency. Those businesses include all five Main Street properties between Pine and Mill streets, as well as Rose Bike Shop and Ampersand, Richert said.

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