By Lindsay Starr Platt, Correspondent
Anyone that has lived or worked in Belton over the years has had a chance to notice the improvements to historical downtown. Many businesses in downtown Belton have had the chance to improve business fronts with a little help from special funds over the last decade.
The Façade Improvement Grant (FIG) Program is a 50/50 grant reimbursement program for property owners. The City of Belton and the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) both make that possible for businesses in the approved zones to get the funding to apply toward the improvements. Businesses apply fifty percent of their funds to funds provided by FIG.
In April 2016, Belton City Council approved an amendment of $60,000 to increase the façade grants in the TIRZ operating budget to be able to fulfill existing and anticipated grant requests.
Five façade grants were on the agenda last year. One of those that applied for the grant last year and has completed their façade is the oldest department store in Texas, Cochran Blair, and Potts located on Central Avenue in downtown Belton.
“From the very beginning, it was our goal to restore the store’s facade to be as historically accurate as possible. We only replaced what had to be replaced, but much of the store’s exterior was kept and restored to its original condition and intent,” said Robert Potts, owner of Cochran, Blair, and Potts. “The City of Belton makes the process easy and provides a checklist. We did have to obey by the guidelines on the Historical Preservation Committee, when it can to the overall design and look of the building.”
Cochran, Blair and Potts’ building was unique with its improvements compared to other businesses as it had five sides of three buildings that received new façades.
“We got started in April 2016 and it took one year for the exterior restoration to be completed,” said Potts. “I wish we would have done it sooner. The response has been absolutely positive. A lot of people are excited what we are preserving the store integrity while maintaining its structure.”
TIRZ was created 15 years ago as a partnership with the city and the county. All of the city and county property taxes go into a separate fund. The annual budget goes towards projects such as streets, utility, downtown, and façades. TIRZ is set to expire in 2024.
“A cumulative effort made by many businesses in Downtown Belton has made the atmosphere more lively and ready for the future,” said Potts.
Miller’s BBQ was another applicant for FIG last year. Miller’s BBQ relocated their business to Central Avenue. Miller’s BBQ received funding to improve two sides of its building that they renovated for their business. Miller’s BBQ former location made room for a new business, Blends Wine Bar, that was also able to apply for a FIG.
“The façade grant enabled me to see my vision into fruition. Without it, I would have had to make a number of cuts, and likely, the exterior of my building would not have the unique facelift that it has now,” said Kat Kaliski, owner of Blends Wine Bar.
City of Belton Public Information Officer, Paul Romer mentioned how the improvements to the old gin were instrumental in setting the atmosphere for historical downtown.
“The program has literally given our downtown the facelift that it has needed,” said City of Belton Mayor Marion Grayson. “And has brought it back to life.”