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Program aims to give downtown a new look

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Casa Barron owner Leslie Barron, left, chats with Perrysburg Mayor Nelson Evans about a patio fence she'd like to erect.

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Perrysburg's new Downtown Improvement Program is designed to encourage property owners in the central business district to improve their buildings.

Council approved creating the program, which will award grants to help businesses make facade improvements.

Only businesses on Louisiana Avenue between Front Street and Third Street are eligible, but the program could be expanded in the future, said Rick Thielen, the city's administrator of planning, zoning, and economic development.

The grants, which are available on a first-come, first-served basis, would reimburse half the expenses for eligible projects, up to a $25,000 limit per property.

Tom Mackin, chairman of council's economic development committee, said the grants will be used for a variety of projects. Eligible projects include window, door, and roof repair or replacement, exterior cleaning, shutters, gutters, painting, signs, landscaping, sidewalks, outdoor cafe seating, and some interior improvements related to building code compliance. New construction is not eligible.

Projects need to be approved by the Historic Landmarks Commission.

Final approval of the grants rests with City Council.

"It's a wonderful thing, what the city is doing," said Leslie Barron of Casa Barron Mexican Restaurant.

She wants to apply for a grant to help set up an outdoor seating area, though she's still negotiating with the commission over building a permanent fence.

The state Division of Liquor Control requires restaurants that serve alcohol to erect a barrier to separate outdoor seating areas from sidewalks.

Ms. Barron said that if she can't build a fence, she won't have outdoor seating at all, because if customers outside were caught with alcohol she could lose her liquor license.

"I'm not going to police my own customers," she said.

The grants are funded by the city's Revolving Loan Fund and Municipal Development Fund. Mr. Thielen said the balance in the revolving loan fund is $340,111. In 2005, $114,000 was paid into the fund.

The municipal development fund, which gets its income from residential, commercial, and industrial leases, has a balance of $40,001. Councilman Tim McCarthy asked what would happen if a large number of businesses applied for the grants.

Mr. Thielen said that some potential projects are in the $6,000 to $15,000 range.

He added that there aren't many businesses in the area and that while he thinks there will be an initial rush for grants, businesses cannot apply for a second one for five years.

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