UPDATED: McMinnville gets Main Street aid

MCMINNVILLE – Downtown McMinnville will soon see some sprucing up, and leaders are hoping the efforts will not only bolster the town’s Main Street but possibly lead to influx of new investors and businesses in Warren County.

The lynchpin for the improvements is two $25,000 grants recently awarded to Main Street McMinnville, a non-profit dedicated to the economic revitalization of downtown. One, a Tennessee Main Street community development block grant (CDBG) for facade improvements. The other, a USDA grant for retail/marketing exposure.

The Tennessee Main Street grant will be broken up several different ways: There will be five allocations of $1,900 each for façade improvements, or exterior, cosmetic upgrades to the downtown’s historic buildings. It requires a 75-percent owner match. Two grants, of $1,100 each, will be awarded for new awnings. Those will also require a 75-percent owner match.

Five other $1,900 grants are for rear entrance improvements. Moore said they’re trying to model Cookeville’s West Side specifically; that kind of upgrades would improve customer access. And the last two grants are for safety improvements. Those are $1,900 as well but require a lessened 50 percent owner match as an extra incentive.

Attorney Ryan Moore, a member of the Main Street McMinnville board of directors and co-chair of the group’s design committee, which is tasked with reviewing the grant applicants, said they’ve received interest from two respective businesses; applications are accepted on a case-by-case basis and funds are awarded intermittently. Property and business owners must complete the work before being reimbursed. The grant period runs until Oct. 31, 2015, and Main Street McMinnville is asking for all work to be completed by the end of September next year.

“The window’s pretty big, but we know that time flies. What we don’t want to happen, we don’t want to leave any money on the table,” Moore said. “We want all of this $25,000 to be spent.”

One of those early grant applicants was Ryan Lorance, who, along with James Totherow, is overhauling the so-called Professional Building on the square. They’ve replaced the awning, are planning a coat of paint – and while not specifically covered by the grant – some interior improvements are on the list as well.

Since the building is beside the courthouse, it gets a lot of exposure, Lorance said. He was hoping the upgrades would also attract more business.

“The grant was a big benefit,” he said. “It was work we were going to have to do anyway, since it’s an older building, but by taking advantage of this, it took a little bit of financial strain off.”

While the funds will largely help improve downtown aesthetically, Moore said he’s also hoping the movement will entice new investors and business owners. He said more than 25 percent of downtown space is currently vacant, including several buildings across from the Park Theatre, which is in the midst of a revitalization of its own.

“I think that’s a great location and great opportunity for someone,” Moore said. Specifically, they’d like to see more retail – from antiques to clothing to gifts – and upscale restaurants. He said they recently added a new coffee shop downtown and a new juice bar, Juicy’s. A yoga studio (OM Yoga) will open in March.

The second grant, via the USDA, will be used to promote, market and advertise the downtown district in various publications – including those with national exposure. It is also in the amount of $25,000. It was awarded more recently and is in the early stages of disbursement.

“The purpose of this is to draw some economic incentive for property owners, merchants and investors to invest in downtown McMinnville,” Moore said.

“There are some gaps downtown,” he added. “That’s why we’re trying to get the word out, because real estate is relatively inexpensive in downtown McMinnville right now. Things are moving. We’re on the move.”

Editor’s Note: Updated 03/05/2014.

Liz Engel is the editor of the Upper Cumberland Business Journal. She can be reached at liz@ucbjournal.com

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