The historical building at 99-101 Orange St. used to sit vacant with collapsing floors, run-down walls, and a large, unattractive red garage door as its exterior. But within the past year, the property has been completely renovated, and with the help of the city’s Facade Improvement Grant Program, it now has a mahogany and glass facade with a traditional, French-style look.

The Facade Program — which has been dedicated to renovating neighborhood storefronts since its inception in 2001 — has recently completed several successful projects and plans to keep making improvements through the summer. Although funding was originally intended specifically for the downtown area, Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez said the city is “significantly underway” in making improvements in the Grand Avenue, Fair Haven and Westville Village neighborhoods, and will soon announce the program’s expansion into the Hill neighborhood.

“It’s a real catalyst for property owners making additional improvements,” said William Christian, a managing partner at the Central Steakhouse on Orange Street, where renovations of the entire building as well as its facade have just been made this past year.

The Facade Program provides grants of up to $10,000 to renovate storefronts — which includes signs, lighting, and awnings — in qualified New Haven neighborhoods. Additionally, businesses may also receive matching dollar-for-dollar grants of another $10,000, as well as up to $1,500 for design costs.

Fernandez said the program, which supports both new and existing businesses, has been “remarkably successful” in New Haven by creating a safer and more inviting environment, increasing private investment by property owners and providing additional employment opportunities across the city as more businesses open up. He said in addition to the funds provided by the Facade Program, owners usually spend between $20,000 and $40,000 on additional improvements to their property.

“We’re looking to create an environment where people feel comfortable and excited to open a business,” Fernandez said. “I don’t think you’ll find anyone who doesn’t like it.”

Economic Development officer Craig Russell, who is in charge of the program, said the Facade Program has been consistently popular in neighborhoods across the city. He said as soon as an initial business in a new area utilizes the program, demand for facade improvements rises among other property owners.

“Once people see that it’s real, then we have a snowball effect,” Russell said.

Carla Maravalle, the owner of Backroom at Bottega, said Facade Program funding allowed her to reface the brick siding and put in new windows and was helpful in improving the mood of the once abandoned building at 954 Chapel St. She said because property owners often think first of improving the inside of their store, the incentive to clean outside areas in downtown has been especially important.

“It makes it easy for you to bring business into New Haven. As an owner, you want to make things easy on small businesses — that’s what makes New Haven so good,” Maravalle said, adding that the program has allowed the city’s unique independent stores to flourish.

Since fiscal year 2001, the city has allocated $3 million towards the Facade Program. Last year, Empower New Haven, a federally funded improvement program, set aside an additional $1 million for the city’s empowerment zone neighborhoods. The Board of Aldermen will vote on a request for $300,000 to continue the program in fiscal year 2005 this May. Fernandez said he hopes the program will remain in place for at least three more years.

Popular area businesses that have taken advantage of the Facade Program include Miso Japanese Restaurant, the Playwright, Diva’s and Hot Tomato’s.