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Grants awarded for commercial, residential housing rehabilitation

An artist's rendering shows the transformation of Aunt Belle's confectionary, the current on the left, proposed on the right.1 / 2
An artist's rendering shows the transformation of Aunt Belle's confectionary, the current on the left, proposed on the right.2 / 2

Park Rapids and Hubbard County have been awarded a $665,208 grant through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to pay for improvements in commercial property and housing rehabilitation.

The grant has three components, explained David Collins, executive director of Hubbard County Regional Development Commission.

Approximately $170,000 has been awarded for downtown Park Rapids commercial rehabilitation, with 35 businesses pre-applying for funds.

An additional $64,400 has been earmarked for eight, possibly more, rental housing projects downtown, specifically the second floor of business sites.

And approximately $350,000 will be awarded for rehabilitating 18 existing owner-occupied housing for low- to moderate-income residents in Park Rapids, Akeley and the county at large.

The remaining funds will cover administrative costs, the Hubbard County Housing and Redevelopment Authority will administer the projects with direction from the Headwaters Regional Development Commission.

An environmental review is currently underway for the downtown Park Rapids projects with formal applications expected to be sent in early June, Collins said.

The proposals will then be reviewed and ranked, with criteria established for selection.

Businesses that have pre-applied and those showing the ability for the project to be completed in a timely manner are more likely to be funded, Collins said.

Up to half of the amount can be loaned for the commercial and rental rehabilitation projects with a maximum of $40,000.

The no-interest loans will be totally forgiven if the owner retains the property for 10 years. If the property is sold within four years, 100 percent of the loan must be repaid. After that, the amount forgiven is prorated on a monthly basis up to 10 years.

The funds may be used for building facades, structural improvements, meeting code, roofs, heating and cooling or plumbing upgrades. Interior remodeling costs, such as carpet, are not included.

Collins anticipates the city could receive additional funding if the grant is effectively administered and the city demonstrates a need for more funds.

In addition to the grant, 40 downtown businesses have signed up for a Lighting Blitz PowerGrant, Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids successfully directing stimulus funds totaling $100,000 for environmental efficiency programs in the city.

Minnesota Power has been conducting walk-throughs in city businesses to identify lighting recommendations.

Loans of up to $5,000 may be accessed through the local banks and the credit union. There is $100,000 available, half the funding from Minnesota Power, half from the Office of Energy Security. The city administers the revolving loan fund.

The projects have an estimated three-year - or less - payback rate.

Park Rapids HRA will administer a $50,000 appliance rebate program and a buy-down for the cost of residential energy audits.

And a facelift could be on the horizon for Main street enterprises.

As part of the downtown improvement project, several businesses expressed a need for facade improvements.

With the aid of a $15,000 grant from the Hewitt family, Paul Richards of Widseth Smith Nolting was hired to conduct research on Park Rapids' history via photographs and sketches.

He then rendered drawings of updated storefronts, with a quaint village-style appeal, and compiled materials needed for the projects.

The improvements, Collins said, are under consideration by the business owners, with further loan or grant funding possibly to be sought for projects.