The City has discussed with the Southern Iowa Council of Governments the potential of applying to the Iowa Economic Development Authority for a grant of $500,000 to make upgrades to street-facing facades in the downtown area. Osceola went through this program about seven years ago and at that time improved about 15 facades. This grant would improve another 10-12 facades at a total cost of roughly $900,000.
At the March 6 City Council meeting Jeremy Rounds from SICOG was present to discuss the continued work on the CDBG Downtown Façade Rehabilitation grant through the IEDA. A slum and blight survey was conducted to assess building conditions in the target areas around the square, a component to qualifying for the grant. On March 6 the Council approved the results of that survey and passed the resolution declaring areas of the downtown district to be slum and blight designated area, which fulfilled the HUD National Objective to “eliminate or prevent slum and blight.”
“Last November, the City started working on assembling a list of eligible and interested property owners for the project. We also went through an consultant selection process and hired an architect to assist in the development of a design concepts and cost estimates for the project,” said Ty Wheeler, City Administrator.
The slum and blight survey involved several photos of the buildings, including close-ups of damaged and deteriorated elements. Elements that show notable deteriorating to their function or 25% of the surface area are considered blighted. The blight assessment will not involve the interior of the building and will not affect taxes or any other government ordinance. It is limited to determining if the building and entire downtown is eligible for the grant.
“IEDA performed a study of other cities who participated in the grant’s first five years and found that the average property value of the participating buildings in those towns increased by about 20% but the non-participating buildings were almost flat. This means wealth is building in your district and property tax receipts are going up,” said Rounds. “The same trend is likely in Osceola if we were to review the valuations of buildings that went through it years ago. A more attractive shopping area is also good for keeping your uptown vibrant and slowing the decline of retail areas. SICOG is here to help the city through the process. We have experience with five previous DTR façade grants, four complete and one underway, totaling more than 70 buildings.”
“We believe that improving the facades on most of the storefronts will increase land values and help people fill building space. It will make buildings more efficient and profitable. While property taxes might increase, the increase is likely to be modest and could potentially be offset for a few years by tax abatement. The long-term sustainability of the district and your building will more than offset the taxes that might be paid. Energy efficiency improvements are possible that will make it more affordable to operate a business in your building,” said Rounds.
“The best example of a couple that were in the program last time around is the Reynoldson Law Office or Stoney Oak. Both are high visibility buildings that turned out really well,” said Wheeler.
Each building owner who decides to participate in the program must eventually agree to the following:
- During the construction work, no other “non-emergency” work can occur in the building.
- Owners must be willing to allow the City to place a construction easement on the façade for three-five years. The easement does not mean the city has an ownership interest in the building. It only allows the city some financial benefit should the owner reverse or destroy the work done by the grant during its duration.
- Owners must be willing to provide some level of local match for the project. This amount is not yet decided, but typically will be 25% of the construction bid pertaining to each building.