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First facade program grant awards approved

Director pleased with buzz created by new program

ROCK FALLS – The committee for the city’s new facade improvement grant program has approved its first applicants.

The panel on Monday awarded the maximum of $5,000 each to three downtown renovation projects.

Kurt Downs and Katy Selmi-Downs have been approved for two adjoining storefronts: Selmi’s Bridal at 223 First Ave., and Katy’s Country Financial office at 225 First Ave. The space had previously been home to Stage Two Resale shop, before that business moved to Sterling.

The other grant award went to Violet Jaramillo for her new business, The Grapevine Wine and Martini Bar at 205 W. Second St.

The city budgeted $20,000 to launch the program, but it is run through the Rock Falls Community Development Corp. The funds are allocated as 50/50 matching grants. Officials said the level of interest shown in the first year would help determine the future of the program.

RFCDC Executive Director Randy Balk said the response has been very good from the beginning.

“When the council passed the program, several business owners were here for applications the next day,” Balk said. “It’s nice to get this program off and running. It’s a good investment in the businesses that are already here.”

The Downses are completely remodeling the building – inside and out. They plan to put new stone veneer on the bottom of the exterior, with textured panels on the top half, new awnings, windows and doors. They are spending an estimated $42,000 on the storefronts, according to the project applications.

Jaramillo’s plans for The Grapevine include new lighted signage, repairs to the brick and concrete exterior, a wood deck with ADA ramp in the back, wrought-iron tables, black aluminum fencing to match the wrought iron, doors, landscaping and a sound system. The improvements are estimated to cost $12,000, according to the applications.

Selmi-Downs said she and her husband approached RFCDC about the possibility of facade help before the program was even in place.

“We saw that the brick on our building had been painted, and knew we had some work to do,” she said. “Sterling had a facade program, so we asked about it and were told they were in the process of starting one.”

Selmi-Downs runs the bridal shop and is also a financial representative for Country Financial. The couple also have the four apartments in the building rented to tenants. The building was a perfect fit for their needs, Selmi-Downs said.

“I could have just rented office space for Country Financial, but when we found this building, we thought it would be so convenient to be near both businesses.”

The business owners have 90 days from the approval date to finish the facade work. The work must be inspected at the time of completion before the city’s 50 percent is reimbursed to the business owner.

Because all of the owners are in the Whiteside County Enterprise Zone, they were able to take advantage of another opportunity. All of their materials used for the renovations were eligible for a sales tax abatement.

Although there are no stringent historic preservation restrictions in the area, only general downtown guidelines, Selmi-Downs said they will respect the building’s integrity.

“I grew up here, and I love Rock Falls and its history,” she said. “We want to try to keep as many of the original features as we can.”

Selmi-Downs said they hope to have everything moved and in place at both storefronts by Nov. 1.

Balk said officials are exploring options for future funding of the program.

“TIF funds could be a source of revenue, if the growth in this area continues,” Balk said. “If the city believes this is a good investment, it’s not a lot of money to find for our existing businesses.”

Facade improvement program committee members

– Gayla Kolb, RFCDC program coordinator

– Lee Folsom, 4th Ward alderman

– Mark Searing, city building inspector

– Tim Wilson, Rock Falls Tourism executive director

– Bob Klomman, local businessman (Discount Eyewear)

– Jeff Guthrie, local businessman (Hill's Electric)

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