The face of New Haven is changing — literally.

As part of its overall economic development plan, the city has instituted a program to revamp the facades of downtown buildings. Initiated last year, the program has seen a recent surge in applications, with 40 pending.

The facade improvement initiative was established as part of a campaign to revitalize New Haven’s downtown as well as parts of Grand and Dixwell avenues. The project allows store owners and other business people the chance to improve their buildings’ facades by repairing and enhancing deteriorating exteriors.

Craig Russell, the city’s director of facade renovation, said he is optimistic about the gradual improvement of life in New Haven as a result of this agenda, adding that it would make downtown much more welcoming for pedestrians.

One goal of the program is to renew interest in the central business district by creating an image of greater safety in these areas. The city is hoping that this will attract more tourists and business owners to the area.

“The biggest benefits, visually, will probably appear along Temple and Chapel streets,” Russell said.

Chapel Street, he said, will probably undergo the most noticeable changes, with $300,000 already invested in the renovations of four storefronts on Chapel Street between Orange and Church streets.

“Historical aspects of these buildings, such as their large windows, will remain intact though,” Russell added.

The district that officials are currently focusing on extends further to encompass the area from Chapel Street to Crown Street and between College and State streets. Of the 86 storefronts in the target area, 22 proposals have been approved, seven are being reviewed, 13 are interested in participating in the initiative, and eight facades have already been completed.

The city’s total investment for these developments is about $2,700,000, Russell said.

Aside from the central downtown area, officials are also looking to improve Grand Avenue, a link to the Fair Haven neighborhood, as well as Dixwell Avenue, which runs from Broadway through the Dixwell neighborhood. The Grand Avenue district contains 86 businesses, while the Dixwell area includes 24.

Approved on July 1 of this past summer, construction is expected to begin on Grand and Dixwell avenues in the spring of 2002.

Russell said he was excited about the program.

“Now, people will actually want to walk the streets,” he said.