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A City economic development initiative under which businesses may obtain grants from the City to improve their street-facing façades will soon expand to include grants for interior as well as exterior renovations. Under the revised program, businesses will be able to obtain up to $50,000 in matching grant money for the renovation of business space provided they meet the City’s qualifying standards.

 The program’s name changes from the Façade Improvement Program to the more expansive Storefront Modernization Program. The change was approved on the City Council’s May 11 consent agenda without debate or discussion.

City standards can be based either on the location or the type of business. Retail businesses are eligible for grant money wherever they are located. Any street-level business on certain streets – Howard, Main, Dempster and Church streets, as well as Dodge Avenue and Emerson Street west of Dodge Avenue – is eligible for this type of grant.

Like the façade-improvement program it replaces, the SMP requires the cooperation of the property owner and not just the business tenant. According to the guidelines submitted with the proposed changes, preference will be given to applicants who can show that their landlord is contributing to interior buildout.

Eligible components include heating and air conditioning (HVAC), electrical, plumbing, mechanical systems, , flooring, fixtures, carpet and drywall, accessibility improvements for ADA compliance or providing features for persons with disabilities, and life-safety features such as sprinkler systems.

 Components that are specifically excluded include refrigerators, ovens, cash registers, tables and chairs, decorations such as wall hangings, and other improvements which are not “fixed capital improvements.”

 As with the façade-improvement program, funding comes from the Economic Development Fund, but additional sources include both the Community Development Block Grant program and TIF funds for businesses in applicable zones.

 The grants will be in the form of a forgivable loan. So long as the business remains operational and compliant with City rules for five years, none of the “loan” must be repaid. If the business folds in less than five years, then technically a prorated portion of the loan will be due and owing to the City.

 According to the draft program guidelines, “The purpose of the Storefront Modernization Program is to improve the appearance and functionality of street-level commercial buildings located throughout the City of Evanston and to support the development of retail uses within the City.”

 The changes to the program are effective immediately.