PORT RICHEY — Last month, city officials launched a grant program to beautify the city by helping residents and business owners fix up their properties with new signs, renovated facades and fresh coats of paint.
Business owner Larry Beeler is putting up fresh stucco, paint and gutters up at his properties on Washington Street, with the city picking up about half of the tab, or $14,954.
"The work that I'm doing, I couldn't have done without this program," said Beeler, whose tenants include a deli, postal store and carpet and tile outlet.
"I felt like with times being the way they are, I couldn't afford it," he said. "It's changing the looks of the buildings entirely."
The work proposed by seven of the remaining nine applications is more practical than aesthetic, though: new roofs.
City Council member Phil Abts said the interest in roofing applications doesn't "agree with our initial plan" to spruce up the city's blighted image.
But Abts said he is pleased the program has been well-received, and City Council member Perry Bean said new roofs bring perks, too.
"The idea is to increase the tax base to increase the value of homes, and certainly, a new roof accomplishes that," said Bean. "As far as improving the look of the city, my personal opinion is that that will come mostly from commercial areas, which is what people seem to focus on when they talk about dissatisfaction of the city's image."
Since the program's inception on Oct. 1, the city has paid out $36,214.
Aside from the seven applications for new roofs, two others were for room additions and improvements to the exterior of a business.
The grant programs, which taps into $150,000 of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency fund, mark the first significant usage in recent years of the $3-million pot of redevelopment money.
For each project, the city requires the resident or business owner to fill out an application and get three bids from companies who can perform the work.
The city reviews applications and bids, and checks to make sure the applicant doesn't owe back taxes or have code enforcement violations on that property, said Kim Licari, grant administrator.
Once approval is granted by City Manager Richard Reade, the resident or business owner pays for the work and brings a copy of their invoice to Licari. They are reimbursed a few days later.
Suzanne and Peter Lauda used the grant program to buy a new roof at their Harbor Isles home, where they've lived for the past 15 years.
The roof cost them $6,400. They will receive $2,000 back from the city.
"It's terrific," Peter Lauda said. "Anybody who doesn't take advantage of it is a fool."
Mayor Richard Rober said the state of the economy has hindered the program's success because some residents can't afford to foot the bill up front for home and business improvements.
But long-term, Rober said he thinks the program will help rid the city of blight and give residents an incentive to work on their homes.
"We would like to see people take advantage of any and all programs that apply to their homes," he said.
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.