Revitalizing the Square


Façade grant program restores, improves city’s historic downtown 



The City of Noblesville began its matching façade grant program in 2008. Since then, 38 projects have revitalized the downtown square for a total capital investment of $1,159,333.57 – with the city paying just $489,219.36.

“It is the most successful program we’ve had in downtown for a catalyst in reinvestment,” said economic development specialist Alaina Shonkwiler, who oversees the program for the city. “It’s visual … you can see the impact they have.”

Shonkwiler said the program has a maximum matching grant of $25,000, which has been approved five times; otherwise it is a 50 percent match of the total project’s costs. Fifteen projects were approved in the first year, but since then the number has dropped each year. In 2012 and 2013 only four projects were applied for and approved.

“We’ve hit a plateau of four a year,” Shonkwiler said.

While the city has not received any applications for 2014, Shonkwiler expects two – Nova 29 in the former Eddie’s Corner Café and Kiln Creations.

Shonkwiler said the program was created in late 2007, and was modeled off of a case study constructed by students in Ball State’s Building Better Communities program.

“The program promotes the preservation and rehabilitation of historically significant architecture and initiates aesthetic improvements in our downtown,” she said.

The city provides funding but the approval of projects comes from a review committee consisting of Renee Oldham, John Adams, Andrew Habel, Mike Marinaro and Heather MacInnis. Shonkwiler said all eligible properties must be within the area bounded on the north by the alley north of Clinton Street, on the east by the alley east of 10th Street, on the south by Division Street and on the west by Fifth Street and the White River.

“There are projects that still can be done, but we are considering expanding the district,” she said.

As the façade grant program evolves it faces two potential major changes.

Shonkwiler has asked the Noblesville Common Council to amend the façade grant ordinance by waiving permit fees of approved projects. Of the 38 projects, 13 (four building and nine encroachment) have needed additional permits from the city. Shonkwiler said these fees total $3,600 or $450 a year over the eight years of the program.

“They still apply and fulfill all the regulations for them,” she said. “It’s one more thing we can use as an incentive for façade grant projects. It’s a small impact on the city but a big one for businesses.”

Funding for the program comes from the Logan Street TIF, whose funds expire in the next 10 years. Shonkwiler said the last appropriation was $75,000 in June.

“There’s $80,000 in the kitty for 2014. The council is willing to appropriate more funds as needed,” she said.

Funds from the TIF district may be used for the West Gateway Park the city is looking to build directly across White River from downtown. If that decision happens, Shonkwiler will turn to federal and state grants to continue the program.

“I’m looking at more creative ways to supplement the funding structure,” she said. “Right now we are in good shape. I’m looking four or five years down the road.”

In their words



“The façade grant was a significant factor in upgrading our original plans for the rehabilitation of the Ninth Street façade of our two buildings, 2 and 11 N. Ninth St. While the façade is common to both structures, they are actually two separate buildings and the cost of the inside renovation was significant. We were determined to preserve the historic character to the greatest extent possible and the grant made the difference for us. The whole square has shown wonderful improvement largely because of this incentive.” – Doug Church of Church, Church, Hittle & Antrim



“Obviously it’s a good program and for a small building owner it absolutely helps out. It defers a lot of the cost … I’m looking at applying for a grant this week. I’d have to wait 12 to 18 months if the grant was not available. I cannot see any disadvantages to the program from my point of view or the city’s. It helps small businesses and business owners,” – Shannon Loomis, owner of Kiln Creations and its building


The cause of reinvestment



Darren Peterson was on the façade review committee for two years and his architecture firm has done a handful of grant projects including the visitor’s center, Kiln Creations and Matteo’s Ristorante Italiano.

“The 1970s were rough on the architecture of downtown Noblesville, with rising energy cost and spiraling interest rates, instead of fixing energy problems with long term solutions they were simply covered up and energy savings alone could not pay for the construction in any reasonable period. High windows were covered with wood mansards so rising heat did not escape single pane retail windows, ornate cast iron columns were wrapped with wood for “out”sulation and exterior solid brick facades were painted and sealed to prevent moisture and thermal penetration.  Naturally everything was sealed up very tight to conserve energy but alas it created the perfect environment for mold and ultimately deterioration. At varying speeds we have witnessed a slow and steady deterioration of several downtown building, culminating in an entire ’70s façade breaking free on the building and landing on the sidewalk. I am not sure if this was the impetus for the façade grant program, but certainly made many building owners start to wonder about the facades and also importantly, what was under them structurally and aesthetically. Over and over again we heard ‘I never knew that was under there’ and ‘we are looking forward to the demolition portion of this project more than the rebuild.’”

“It’s more friendly, a new perspective. It makes the whole thing feel less sleepy. The impact seems cleaner, safer and people care about their business,” he said.

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