Façade Grants Enhance Appeal of Near Eastside Commercial Spaces

Pictured above: Ruckus Makerspace, a property of Riley Area Development Corporation, which benefited from painting, landscaping, and window replacement funded in part by one of LISC’s facade grants (Source: North Mass Indy)

 

Many storefronts in the IndyEast Promise Zone have been around for several decades, longer than even their most resilient tenants. Peeling paint, burned-out lights, cracked windows, dead plants, and other indicators of deterioration are telltale signs of their age, especially at sites that have been vacant for significant periods of time. Clear signage and welcoming exteriors, although costly to maintain, are often critical for business owners seeking to turn passersby into new clients and customers. Fortunately for Indianapolis entrepreneurs on a budget, there is an opportunity to bridge financial gaps in order to revamp storefronts without taking out loans or sacrificing emergency savings.

The Small Business Façade and Property Improvement Program was started in 2004 by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) of Indianapolis in order to elevate the potential of small businesses in Indianapolis through competitive grants covering up to half of project costs in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 for storefront improvement. Administered under the Fostering Commercial and Urban Strategies (FOCUS) Program, which is sustained in partnership with the City of Indianapolis, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Lilly Endowment, State Farm Insurance, and the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership (INHP), façade grants also exist to promote equitable growth as a key component of Indianapolis’ emergence as a regional economic hub. Thus, the most viable applications for façade grants that LISC reviews are from entrepreneurs with the ability, innovative thinking, and willpower to create jobs, reduce blight, and provide high-demand goods and services along key commercial corridors. Initiatives such as Great Places 2020 and FOCUS Works, along with organizations such as the Indy Food Council and Center for Working Families, heavily inform the priorities that determine eligibility for façade grant funds.

The salient role of façade grants in the IndyEast Promise Zone, like that of the Promise Zone designation itself, is a result of the decades of disinvestment in Near Eastside neighborhoods that occurred in the 20th century. Owing to changes in population, median household income, perceptions of public safety, and other indicators of neighborhood stability that occurred as a result of this disinvestment, many of the businesses that have benefited from façade grants are located in buildings that stood vacant or had high rates of turnover prior to their current ownership. The negative impact of neighborhood instability on the Near Eastside economy has also been shown in a market study conducted by Greenstreet, Ltd., an Indianapolis-based real estate development, brokerage, and consulting firm, which found that residents of Indianapolis’ Near Eastside have higher levels of demand for commodities in many categories of goods and services than are supplied by local businesses. The fact that residents of the Near Eastside are ready to invest more money in locally-offered goods and services without having outlets to do so highlights a long-standing conundrum in which large retailers tend to locate outside of the Near Eastside in the interest of maximizing profit while budding entrepreneurs struggle to accrue enough startup capital to establish sustainable business operations, even in relatively affordable neighborhoods.

Façade grants have contributed significantly to the feasibility of small-scale entrepreneurship in Indianapolis, particularly on the Near Eastside. Through federal grants that it has leveraged with the help IndyEast Promise Zone preference points, LISC has awarded 485 Indianapolis small businesses more than $3.1 million, of which more than $420,000 has gone to 23 businesses in the Promise Zone. Beneficiaries of façade grants in the Promise Zone include Ash and Elm Cider, McNamara Florist, Rabble Coffee, Tlaoli, Pia Urban Café, Tick Tock Lounge, and the Mayfair Taproom, along with other up-and-coming businesses that are quickly becoming staples of the Near Eastside. The Buy IndyEast committee aims to help Near Eastside commercial enterprises secure 82 more commercial façade improvements by 2025, a tremendous feat that will depend on increased knowledge of façade grants across the Near Eastside business community and an influx of promising establishments among its ranks.

Given the state of disrepair seen at many aging storefronts on the Near Eastside, the opportunity to benefit from financial assistance in rehabilitating those spaces is and will continue to be critical for businesses in all stages of development that aim to remain long-term neighbors of the Near Eastside community. LISC’s façade grant program has been instrumental in providing such assistance, as it will continue to for the foreseeable future.

 

Before and After: Properties Improved With the Support of Façade Grants

 

          

The Mayfair Taproom on East 10th Street

(Source: Google Maps Street View)

 

    

Tlaoli and Pia Urban Cafe (the latter of which is permanently closed) on East Washington Street

(Source: Google Maps Street View)

 

        

2030 Brookside Avenue

(Source: Google Maps Street View)