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October 25, 2019

Three communities get 'Main Street' loans for downtown storefront improvements

Photo / Maureen Milliken Gardiner is one of three Main Street Maine communities that will take part in a revolving loan program for downtown historic facade improvement.

Gardiner, Biddeford and Skowhegan will get no-interest loans for improvements to downtown buildings and storefronts through the Historic Commercial District Revolving Fund of Main Street America program, the Maine Development Foundation announced.

The Maine Downtown Center part of the MDF, will partner with the Main Street America program to provide the loans, which are for "visible improvements to buildings and storefronts," and are parceled as 15 loans to individual property owners and businesses over three years through the Historical Commercial District Revolving fund.

The loans will be for between $4,000 and $10,00, and be no-interest for three years. The program is Maine’s first statewide Main Street historic preservation revolving loan fund, said Anne Ball, MDC’s program director. It's funded by the 1772 Foundation, which provides grants to preserve historic property and farmland.

The fund will provide loans for small businesses and property owners to invest in facades. Maine is the second state to take part in the program, which was launched as a pilot in Texas in 2016.

The three communities were selected because they expressed interest in starting or enhancing their existing façade improvement programs, Ball told Mainebiz Friday. She said the program will expand beyond the three communities as loans are repaid. The three are among the state's 10 designated Main Street Maine communities, as accredited by the national Main Street Center.

The MDC has a meeting Friday afternoon with the National Main Street Center, which is the lead on administering the program. Information on how the loans can be applied for will available soon, she said.

"These visible downtown improvements will drive economic development and further investment in these nationally designated Main Street communities," Ball said in an earlier news release.

Main Street America partnered with the Texas Main Street Program in 2016 to launch the Façade Improvement Pilot Program. The pilot program brought $80,000 in façade improvement funds to two San Augustine and Texarkana, both Main Street American communities. The success of the pilot program allowed MSA to launch a second round of revolving loans in Texas and to expand the fund into more Main Street America communities, according to a news release, and Maine is the second state to take part.

“Working with our Texas partners, we have seen the impact of façade improvement loans have in producing significant, positive changes in Main Street districts over these past three years,” said Patrice Frey, president and CEO at Main Street America, “We are excited to expand this work with Maine Downtown Center and continue to see the economic and visual impacts in Maine downtowns.”

Historic preservation grant program launched

The announcement came shortly after one that the Maine Downtown Center program will administer $750,000 in funding over the next two years for historic preservation or energy efficiency projects in downtowns across the state.

MDC’s is the largest of nine grants announced in September by the National Park Service, Department of Interior, Historic Revitalization Subgrant Program.

Ball said the Maine Historic Preservation Commission will partner with the MDC on the program. Grant applications and requirements will be made available in December at

“The preservation of some key downtown buildings and libraries can serve as a catalyst for economic development," she said. "We are eager to award this funding and track the economic activity in these communities.”

The objective of the program is to support historic properties rehabilitation as a way to foster rural economic development.

Funding in the form of subgrants will be awarded through a competitive program that will be operated by the Maine Development Foundation. Projects can include physical preservation projects for historic sites, architectural/engineering services and technical assistance.

The program will be open to 33 communities that are or were recently part of the MDC's Main Street Program, and are designation as rural communities by the federal government which means a popularion of less than 50,000.

“Historic preservation projects have consistently proven to foster economic growth,” National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said in a news release. “Through the support of the National Park Service, rural communities are able to preserve their historic resources, shining a light on their unique local history and bolstering economic development.”

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