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Storefront program better than expected

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Gauging participation in incentive-based development programs can be difficult, as participation can be hit or miss.
Dauphin’s Storefront Improvement Program has proven to be a hit, says Economic Development manager Carissa Caruk- Ganczar.
Targetting businesses in the city’s core, the program, first announced in May, provides up to $5,000 in matching funding for eligible, approved projects.
Working with boundaries for the program beginning at Memorial Boulevard in the south and travelling north to Fifth Avenue North, including businesses up to one block on either side of Main Street, the program started with a $40,000 pot of money.
“We were hoping to get that eight applicants with a maximum of $5,000 or something around there,” Caruk-Ganczar said.
“We ended up getting 21 applications with a total ask of over $90,000. The total amount of work, really, is around $250,000, the value of all those improvements in those 21 projects.”
It has resulted in a difficult review and decision process for the department weighing large projects against smaller ones.
A lot of the applications involve replacing doors and windows, upgrading signs and maintenance issues such as painting or brick renewal, but some plans looked at completely changing the facade of buildings.
“There were some really amazing things we really didn’t know were going to come out of the woodwork,” Caruk-Ganczar said.
“A lot of these projects will really change up the area.”
While no announcements about successful applications are being made until she can consult with business owners, Caruk-Ganczar is confident the program is getting the most bang for its buck.
“We really tried to go through and look at the number of improvements, the types of improvements and those that, based on the information provided, will provide the most significant impact this first round,” Caruk-Ganczar, said, adding some projects were asking for less than the minimum and she also been able to steer some business owners toward other sources of funding for things such as accessibility projects.
“Basically what we are looking at is 12 approvals of the 21.”
The program is in keeping with the City’s recent efforts to improve the core and Caruk-Ganczar said those efforts are starting to make a difference.
“Mayor and council made a decision a couple of years ago to focus on revitalizing downtown,” she said, adding there are other business areas in the city which could benefit from such a program.
“We have a lot of great buildings and just adding some visual interest, especially for winter months, is a big thing. Seeing some of that pride and investment in storefronts is a big thing.”
Given the City’s strides forward, the number of applicants for this year’s program and the interest shown from outside the area, Caruk-Ganczar would like to see the program continue in the future.
“As with anything, we are going to have to take it back to council for future consideration, but we are hoping this is demonstrating it is something that can really help and there is a great need,” she said, adding all approved projects must be completed by Dec. 31.
“We have had a lot that really surprised me, that have been thinking about (making improvements) and having that little bit of extra cash has spurred them to make some investments.
“We are hoping it is going to show some really great changes and examples so other businesses can be inspired.”