The EDA has reported on its ongoing focus on the downtown area.What is this all about and how does this focus impact our community?

For the past several years, EDA Coordinator Kurk Kramer has reported on the EDA Board’s ongoing focus on the downtown area. In fact, “downtown” in some form, has appeared on the EDA’s list of goals going back to 2010.

Last summer, a group of downtown business people formed what they called the Downtown District Committee, with a similar goal of revitalizing downtown Sleepy Eye.

What is this all about and how does this focus impact our community? In a series of articles, the Herald-Dispatch will attempt to answer those questions and more.

Last January, the EDA Board identified downtown as a major goal: addressing needs of downtown properties and promoting downtown rehab programs, especially concentrating on vacant buildings and properties. In his monthly newspaper article, after the EDA Board’s February 2017 meeting, Kramer explained, “The ultimate goal, obviously, is not to point fingers at any one property, or property owner, but to have everyone work together towards making our downtown look better and be a jewel that we are proud of.”

Kramer said that since 2010 a couple of EDA programs were initiated to assist businesses with rehab projects. One is a loan assistance interest rate buydown program that serves businesses who need a bank loan to accomplish a capital improvement project—the EDA “buys down” the loan interest rate to 1 percent.

The EDA also established DRIP—the Sleepy Eye Downtown Rehabilitation Incentive Program, available to businesses in the central business district. Eligible businesses can receive a forgivable loan for half of the rehabilitation project costs and a low interest loan for the remaining half. Kramer said eight businesses have competed projects through this program.

The third EDA program that concentrates on the look of Sleepy Eye businesses is the Sign and Awning Program which pays 75 percent of the cost for new signage and awnings (capped at $5,000 project cost.) Eleven businesses used this program in 2014 through 2016.

Kramer and EDA President Kathy Haala said “downtown” remains on the list of goals for 2018, with more goal setting to come. “We decided to look at this as a five-year plan,” said Haala. “We will be making a list of sub-goals as we determine how the EDA’s resources can meet the needs of building owners.”

Haala said thinks one of their first goals will be to address what is most visible when people drive through town—store fronts in disrepair, from broken windows to crumbling facades. She believes the city’s new blight ordinance, which will require building repairs and maintenance, will encourage property owners to find out how the EDA can help them fix any violations.

Haala stressed that improvements to downtown buildings won’t happen overnight. “It takes time for building owners to make plans, get their finances in order and then go to work on the actual project,” she said. “The EDA is able to help.”

Next week’s article is about the Downtown District Committee’s efforts to revitalize downtown.