September 11, 2007

Dowtown group increases city's loan/grant program

The Redmond Downtown Urban Renewal Advisory Committee has recommended changes to the city's loan and grant programs that would direct more money towards private developers looking to rehabilitate downtown buildings.

The recommendation, made at DURAC's Sept. 9 meeting, must be approved by the Redmond Urban Renewal Board before becoming law.

In the committee's first action, DURAC members approved boosting the city's contribution to the Downtown Property Rehabilitation Loan and Grant Program by changing the ratio of private money to public money from a 7:1 to 4:1. The program, adopted by the city in late 2006, provides up to $50,000 in low-interest loans and $11,500 in grants to eligible projects within the downtown core.

Five loan and grant packages have been approved under the 7:1 formula since the program's inception - including two to buildings owned by members of the advisory committee. Advising the committee, Heather Richards of the city's Community Development Department suggested the 7:1 match might not provide enough incentive to property owners considering renovating their buildings.

Craig Ladkin, a member of DURAC and one of the recipients of city funds, said he was comfortable with a switch to 4:1 but could go no further. Moving to a 3:1 or even a 2:1 match would be likely to attract projects with limited economic merit according to Ladkin, who said he would prefer funds be steered towards more promising projects.

Jean Wood, also a DURAC member and also a recipient of city funds, said 4:1 probably wouldn't be enough to move some projects forward, but she too said he didn't want to drop the ratio further. Wood said she looked at the issue in terms of the rental rates in downtown Redmond, which she described as "not pretty," and unable to support significant investment in existing buildings.

In other matters, the committee approved a recommendation to create a design assistance program for smaller building improvement projects. If adopted by the city council, the program would provide up to 15 hours of professional design assistance to building owners looking to undertake exterior projects such as new signage or awnings.

The city would assemble a list of approved design firms for building owners to work with. Property owners would pay an up-front fee of 10 percent of the total cost of design services, estimated by Richards to be between $1,500 to $2,000. If the property owner went through with the changes suggested by the designer, their upfront money would be refunded.

-- story by Scott Hammers

No comments: