DADE CITY — Get your paintbrushes ready.
As a boost for downtown business owners, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency is offering a grant for qualifying exterior painting projects.
The grant will pay 100 percent of the bill, up to $2,500 of the painting costs for a single-story building or $7,500 for a multi-story structure. It is available only to business owners within the city's CRA district, which covers much of downtown.
"We really just wanted to give a boost to the town," said Crystal Davenport, executive director of Downtown Dade City Main Street, which is administering the grant. "It's kind of like our own individual economic stimulus plan."
A CRA grant covering 100 percent of a property improvement is a rarity. Most CRAs in the county require the recipient to pay for at least some of the project cost.
New Port Richey offers a 100 percent grant of up to $5,000 to remove certain blighted structures in its redevelopment district. Port Richey provides matching funds of up to $2,500 for a single-unit building or $7,500 for a multiple-unit building to improve a commercial building's exterior.
But Dade City's offer doesn't stand for long. The program is called the Window of Opportunity Grant, and the deadline to apply is Sept. 18. All projects must be completed within three months of approval.
The idea came after members of the Design Review Committee, an advisory group, walked through town and took notes on needed improvements.
"At the end of the day, we went back to see what the largest need was, and it was paint," Davenport said.
In Dade City, the City Commission sits as the CRA's board of directors. The group's budget was about $740,000 in the 2008-09 fiscal year. The money is not part of the city's general fund.
For several years now, the CRA has offered another program that pays 75 percent of an exterior improvement project, up to $7,500. But applications have recently dropped.
Officials blame the economy. Business owners have to first pay for the project. After reimbursement, they were still responsible for the remaining 25 percent of the cost.
"It's quite ironic and painful that when people need the help the most is when they can afford it the least," said Karen Traenkner, the city's CRA director.
Downtown property owner David Hevia took advantage of the 75 percent match grant in the early 2000s to fix a staircase at his business, Kiefer Village Jewels. Several years later, he was able to replace the building's overhang thanks in part to the grant.
The grant is available for renewal every three years. Hevia was going to use it again for a painting project, but held off because of the 25 percent match.
He said the CRA's Window of Opportunity grant will be a great help to business owners who, like him, have seen a drop in shoppers because of the economy.
"They're making the right move at the right time," Hevia said.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis @sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.