City funds facade face-lifts

The Elm City has been getting a face-lift.

The New Haven Facade Improvement Grant Program has provided $387,300 over the past fiscal year to help 11 local businesses remodel their exteriors, which enabled $813,600 of commercial renovations.

Since 2001, the program has reimbursed local business owners for up to 50 percent of a given project’s cost or up to $30,000, whichever is lower. This year, the program has seen demand increase markedly, even as its funding has declined almost 20 percent to $400,000, said Clay Williams, the program’s director.

The program has provided funding to the owners of Yalie favorites such as Miso Japanese Restaurant, Woodland Café and Tea Company, and Modern Apizza for everything from full exterior remodeling to the installation of new doors or windows.

Claire Criscuolo, the owner of Claire’s Corner Copia, said that approximately seven years ago she used the program to insulate the windows in her restaurant, an improvement which drastically reduced its monthly utility bill.

“It’s been such a blessing and saved us so much money,” Criscuolo said.

But since Claire’s received funding, the program has been changed because of budget reductions, Williams said. When he started with the program in 2006, it did not require the business receiving the grant to match the city’s contribution. Now, he said, the program requires a dollar-for-dollar match from any local business that receives a grant.

Now, since funding has decreased, Williams said he has had to prioritize which New Haven districts are most in need of the program’s aid and explained that for the most part revitalization grants are distributed based on the needs of an area, not an individual business.

“We try to use the program not so much for individual [businesses],” he said, “but for neighborhood revitalizations.”

For the past three years, Williams said, he has reached out to representatives from targeted city districts to get their help with identifying what blocks and businesses are most in need of renovation funding and is currently working with representatives from the Whalley Avenue Special Services District to do so.

Sheila Masterson, the executive director of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District, said the facade grants are a crucial aspect of a larger “comprehensive program to improve the avenue,” which contains more than 100 businesses and runs from Broadway up to Pendleton Street. Three potential facade projects that have already been identified for the coming year include Chuck’s restaurant and Third World Café.

Pat Minore, the owner of Third World Cafe, said the grant would help pay for new windows and an awning, and would be the second facade grant he has received. Last year, he said, he received a $15,000 grant to help pay for a new sign for another restaurant he owns, Minore’s Poultry and Foods on Whalley Avenue.

Six years ago, Central Steakhouse on Orange Street also received a grant for a new sign, an addition partner Bill Christian said improved the business tremendously.

Still, Williams said some local businesses are having trouble raising the requisite funds to match the city’s facade grant. To ensure businesses that cannot get together the necessary funding on their own can participate in the program, Williams said he works with interested business owners and non-traditional loan sources to help the businesses secure loans.

All four of the business managers interviewed on Broadway, Chapel and Crown streets Sunday said the program provides local businesses with an opportunity to invest in their future.

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