$150,000 effort pays up to half of improvementsNOVATO – In the three months since the Novato Redevelopment Agency launched the Grant Avenue Facade Development Program, applications for improvements to 11 storefronts in that downtown commercial corridor have used up the $150,000 in matching redevelopment funds the City Council approved for the program.

The city launched the program primarily to offer the renovation rebates to tenants so they could, with the building owner's approval, update or improve the exterior with new awnings, paint, landscaping, lighting, windows, exterior coverings, doors or signage, according to economic development and redevelopment director Ron Gerber.

"What we've seen so far is that it’s the landlords who are coming up with all the money, and we match half," he said.

The applications received so far are being processed, and the city is working on sketches.

The program offers up to half the total project costs in the form of a loan forgiven over five years if the improvements stay in place.

Maximum rebates are $40,000 for one storefront or $60,000 per building, arranged for after project completion. So an owner could put forward $120,000 for a whole-building project and receive a $60,000 rebate.

The redevelopment agency is covering half the cost of a city planner's time for fast-track processing of permit applications and for 10 hours of design time. A $250 refundable deposit is required for applications.

"Let's try carrots instead of sticks," said Mr. Gerber. He noted that other Bay Area cities such as Emeryville have had such façade-upgrade programs for years.

The façade project is part of a 10-year effort to bring economic activity back to the downtown area. The city completed $11 million in aesthetic upgrades to Grant Avenue in 2006.

The anticipated completion next year of the Whole Foods Market store in the Millworks mixed-use redevelopment project is anchoring the east end of Grant. A number of tenants have come to the street, including a few new restaurants and possibly a winery.

Early design concepts for retail and mixed-use redevelopment of Redwood Boulevard through downtown started earlier this year.

For more information, call program coordinator Rebecca Markwick at 415-899-8989 or visit www.ci.novato.ca.us/index.aspx?recordid=24&page=637.