Letter to the Editor: Allamakee County should create a Building Exterior Improvement Program

To the Editor:

Allamakee County received nearly $2.7 million as part of its allocation of State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds through the American Rescue Plan, and the County should use a portion of that funding to create a countywide commercial building facade improvement program.

A facade is an exterior, public-facing side of a building, which typically means the front, but can also include the side if the building is on the corner of a block. An improvement program would allow building owners to do a variety of work, including but not limited to painting, removing siding, replacing windows, updating awnings, tuckpointing and restoring historic features.

As currently presented to the County, a facade improvement program would offer grants to building owners with a dollar-for-dollar cash match (i.e. building owners would pay 50% of the project cost). Average grant awards would total $10,000 but would be variable depending on the scope of the project application. Funds would be disbursed on a reimbursement basis, ensuring that acceptable projects are completed. Because this program would utilize federal funds, it would not cost the County or Cities anything to implement.

The benefits of such a program are numerous. A 2014 study by the University of Wisconsin found that more than 80% of businesses that completed a facade project experienced an increase in the number of first-time customers, and over 90% of businesses saw an increase in sales. Sales revenue in these cases increased by an average of 20%.

American Rescue Plan money was distributed to every county in the country in order to help as many citizens as possible. A facade improvement program would help everyone in Allamakee County, not just the participating building owners.

In 2018, the Baltimore Development Corporation found that facade improvements increase foot traffic in an area, which reduces crime, attracts residents, and increases customer traffic to businesses close to the improved building. The National Trust for Historic Preservation found that building improvements encourage other businesses to move into a community, which reduces vacancies and increases rental income.

Additionally, owners of neighboring buildings are often motivated to make improvements of their own. Allamakee County itself will reap financial rewards, because the increased property values will lead to greater tax revenue.

Every town in Allamakee County could benefit from a building facade program, and the improved properties would enhance the lives of every single resident. If you would like Allamakee County to create such a program, I encourage you to reach out to the members of the Allamakee County Board of Supervisors in order to express your support. You can contact Mark Reiser, Dan Byrnes and Larry Schellhammer.

Andy Kelleher
Executive Director
Main Street Lansing