When Jane Osmond graduated from the University of Florida in the 1980s, she knew she’d come back one day. After a phone call from her sister in High Springs, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work bringing SweetBerries Eatery & Frozen Custard—a small family-owned café business—to Gainesville.
Renovating the interior of her location on 505 NW 13th Street didn’t give her much of a budget for anything more than the bare basics. “Construction always takes longer and costs more money than you expect,” said Osmond, co-owner of SweetBerries.
That’s when the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA)’s façade improvements incentive program kicked in. Osmond earned a $10,000 grant and a design consultation from a licensed architect. The CRA’s support gave her the resources she needed to expand the sidewalk, add an awning to protect customers from the rain, install brighter lighting and incorporate artistic elements like an ice-cream cone bike rack.
The funding transformed the site and helped attract new customers, she said. “Making our outdoor space colorful and appealing is a big draw for our restaurant,” she said.
“It was a huge help,” said Osmond. “I feel really blessed to have gotten that extra $10,000.”
Osmond’s storefront is one of 12 buildings that have taken advantage of the Gainesville CRA’s façade grant program over the past three years.
By providing up to $10,000 or $50,000 in matching funds to business and building owners, the program makes it more affordable for entrepreneurs to revitalize their storefronts. The public-private investment encourages more attractive public corridors, increased community pride/identity, and often contributes to improved public safety.
The CRA has approved more than $250,000 in grant money to locations like the Firestone building, Sushi Chao, U14, Trimark’s Innovation Square offices and Chunky’s Wings n’ Seafood.
Since the grant funds are matched dollar-for-dollar by the private sector, the program yields at least double the return on property improvements. The program helps small business owners maximize their capital investment and increase their curb appeal.
“The CRA is helping us more than survive—they’re helping us thrive,” said Chunky’s Wings n’ Seafood owner Jamal Shaer. “It really encourages us to stay in the area and do better.”
While CRA façade money can only be used for exterior improvements, it has given Shaer the leverage he needed to grow his business holistically.
He plans to re-open Chunky’s with a fresh coat of paint, a dramatically remodeled interior seating area and an all-new menu concept in Winter 2014.
“We’re going to be attracting new customers with the grilled concept. I’ll be hiring three full-time employees and two more part-time employees,” he said.
Global creative studio ParisLeaf credits the property improvements Trimark made as a key motivator in their decision to move into their new Innovation Square office.
“Wherever we chose to move, we wanted to fulfill a deep desire to create a “wow!” factor with our first impression,” said ParisLeaf Co-founder and Chief Relationship Officer Chad Paris.
“The before and after is miraculous, and I know this project couldn’t have been as much of a success without the CRA. In many ways, [clients] instantly know if they’re a good fit for us because the building is such a bold statement about who we are and what we stand for,” he said.
Nathalie McCrate is a project manager at the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency. An active advocate of all-things-cool about Gainesville, she previously served as marketing coordinator for the UF Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, student ambassador for Google and as an organizer for TEDxUF. Nathalie graduated from UF with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in entrepreneurship.
Overview of the CRA’s Façade Grant program
What? Provides up to $10,000 or $50,000 in matching funds for exterior improvements of commercial buildings (depending on location).
Purpose: Encourage small businesses to improve their curb appeal. Revitalization results in public benefits like enhanced corridor aesthetics, improved pedestrian comfort and public safety. Eligible improvements include signage, awnings/canopies, landscaping, painting and more.
Past grant recipients include: Sushi Chao, Trimark Properties & SweetBerries
Who’s eligible? Building owners or occupants in CRA redevelopment areas. Funding is restricted to existing commercial buildings located on key corridors identified by the CRA’s strategic plan. The façade grant will be awarded as a reimbursement to the applicant upon project completion. Applicant must commit to expending a cash match at least equal to the grant funds sought in the application. Other restrictions may apply.
Administered by: Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency (tel: 352-393-8200)