Programs may help downtown property owners

STEUBENVILLE — Renewed interest in downtown properties has city officials thinking of ways they can spread the word about programs that could help owners improve them.

Urban Projects Director Chris Petrossi said Steubenville has offered four programs in the past — community reinvestment area, historic facade rehabilitation, urban redevelopment district and a special improvement district — to help owners, with varying degrees of success.

Second Ward Councilman Craig Petrella said he’d like to see more community involvement.

“I’d like to see a one-stop shop,” Petrella said. “So someone coming into Steubenville, you could tell them, ‘Here’s the federal, state and local programs that can assist you.'”

If people could click a link and see the programs and their requirements, “it just might be enough to entice somebody” to take advantage of them, he said.

At the local level, Petrossi said the city has a Community Reinvestment Area, Historic e Rehabilitation, an Urban Redevelopment District and Special Improvement District program.

≤ The CRA, which encompasses all of the downtown, the hilltop, Lincoln Heights, Lincoln Valley and Alikanna, allows property owners who do upgrades to file an application with the Community Reinvestment Council and, if their project meets the requirements, they’d only pay taxes on the pre-improvement value.

Eligible improvements include things like full-building rehabs, a building addition or detached garage. The duration of the abatements is based on the cost of the improvements as well as the structure.

≤ The Historic Facade Rehabilitation program provides grants of up to $35,000 — $70,000 for corner properties — to help pay for historic facade rehabilitation or roof replacements in the core area of the central business district (from Washington to Adams streets from Fifth to Third streets.)

Originally available only for properties in the historic district, last time around the city relaxed the rules to allow properties on the fringe of the historic district to apply.

Petrossi characterized the grants as a deferred payment loan: If a participating property owner maintains the improvements for five years, the debt is forgiven.

“Several year ago we had 13 applicants who participated,” he said. “The program was discontinued after that because there were no additional applicants. A couple years ago when we restarted it, we worked with two owners who had three buildings downtown.”

Petrossi said the mortgage is transferable, as long as the new owner agrees to maintain the improvements.

“There’s no penalty as long as the owner maintains the improvements,” he said. “The program provides up to $35,000 per property. Anything over and above that amount is the owner’s responsibility.”

The facade/roof program isn’t currently funded, however.

≤ The Urban Redevelopment District is a zoning district that covers the entire downtown, Petrossi said. It allows the planning commission to consider uses for a property in those areas other than the “permitted uses” listed in that area. Applicants must apply to the planning commission.

“The benefit is that you might have a business that wants to do something that doesn’t quite fit a B-1 zoning classification that most of the district is in,” Petrossi said. “It will still be compatible. (The advantage is) they don’t have to go through rezoning, which can take up to 90 days.”

Petrossi said they’ve had only one business take advantage of the URD, though another individual looking at a building “told us he intends to apply but hasn’t submitted yet.”

The URD “is a win for the city and business owners,” he said. “It doesn’t cost the city anything, it’s in the code.”

≤ Special Improvement Districts, which allow property owners in a specific geographic region to collect special assessments that are applied to the cost of designated improvements. Authorized by state code, a majority of the property owners in that area have to agree, and the project goals cannot be services local government already provides.

Petrossi said the upside to SIDs is that every penny collected “goes back to the organization to implement whatever strategies were included in their plan.” While SIDs are being used in other parts of the state, he said to his knowledge there haven’t been any in Jefferson County.

“It’s been proposed but has not moved forward,” Petrossi said. “We’re hoping with renewed interest in the downtown, with First Fridays and other activities that are going on, it will spark some interest in SIDs.”

He also pointed out there are regional, state and federal incentives for small business:

≤ Regionally, OMEGA offers low-interest revolving business loans while assistance with Phase I environmental and asbestos assessments is available through the BHJ brownfields task force.

*State assistance includes Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits and Ohio Small Business Development Centers

≤ Federal historic preservation tax credits also are available.

Petrella said he’d like to see more property owners taking advantage of the assistance.

“I don’t think they know about them,” Petrella said. “CRA has been around for years, the facade program has been around for years … if I’m a downtown business owner and I need a new roof, why wouldn’t I apply?

“We have these programs, I want the public to be aware of the programs so they can take advantage of them,” Petrella said. “Maybe we could get some of the vacant buildings occupied if investors knew there was assistance available. There are federal, state and local programs out there that people just don’t know about.”

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