Mundelein developing grant program for downtown businesses
Mundelein officials have spent millions of dollars sprucing up the downtown business district since the 1990s.
The cash infusions paid for wider sidewalks, old-fashioned streetlights and other amenities -- but they haven't been able to make the area thrive.
Now, village leaders may create a matching grant program that would encourage merchants and other business owners to invest in the area as a way to spur redevelopment.
"We want to be partners with our businesses, and this demonstrates that," Village Administrator John Lobaito said.
The program originated in a 2012 village board planning session, Lobaito said, and $50,000 for the effort was included in the budget for the 2014 fiscal year.
"This grant program can grow from there," he said. "We don't know what kind of interest there will be."
The program would be open to the owners of private, for-profit businesses within the downtown district. Most of that wedge-shaped district is south and east of the intersection of routes 45 and 176.
Schools, government agencies and nonprofit groups would be ineligible.
According to a draft version of the plan, approved projects would be eligible to receive a grant of up to 50 percent of an improvement project's cost, up to $25,000. Larger grants would be considered if officials find the improvements to be of "exceptional value."
Eligible projects must have price tags of at least $1,000.
Under the plan, qualifying projects would include signs, landscaping, facade improvements, door replacements and ornamental fencing. Signs are a particular target, Lobaito said, because officials are reworking the town's sign rules.
"(We hope) to create a sense of place in the downtown," he said.
Inelgibile expenditures would include permit costs, legal fees, interior remodeling, land acquisition and roof repairs.
Applicants would be expected to stay open at least three years. If a business doesn't hit that mark or moves out of the village before then, the owner would have to repay up to 75 percent of the grant, according to the draft plan.
Grants would be awarded once the projects are complete.
The village board could approve the program in January or February, Lobaito said.
Mundelein officials have been concentrating on reshaping the town's image for much of this year. They hope a rebranding and marketing effort will bring Mundelein positive attention and attract new businesses and new customers.
In July, the board hired an Evanston firm to develop a municipal branding program. In September, the board hired the town's first communications and marketing director.