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Improvement funds remain unspent

Eighteen months into a two-year program to spruce up portions of Elmwood Avenue, most of a state matching grant remains unused.

With the clock ticking down to a June 1 deadline, only $8,800 of the $92,000 in restricted Main Street Program funds has been spent. The one-to-one matching grant for facade improvements is limited to the stretches of Elmwood between Bryant and West Utica streets and between Potomac and Forest avenues.

"It's kind of disappointing, because I have so many other areas of the street that would take part in the program," said Justin Azzarella, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association.

Dan Sack of the group's design committee agreed.

"We're just floored that people are not banging down the doors and saying, 'Great, I can get 50 percent off.' " Sack said.

He said the problem rests with a small number of property owners.

"The areas that need to do better have landlords who are not willing to spend money. And those are the areas we've targeted because they're not doing as well. It's a circular thing," Sack said.

The grants can be used for such improvements as new signs, energy-efficient windows, exterior painting, decorative brick work and improvements to second-floor housing units.

They are available to renters as well as property owners.

"One of the aspects of the grant is that improvements be marketed to medium- to low-income individuals," Azzarella said.

Three merchants say they hope to take advantage of the matching grants.

Debbie Sidel, owner of Half & Half Clothing Co., plans to use the funds for repairing brickwork, restoring a decorative crown, painting the exterior and installing new sign lighting.

"It's a great incentive to do work to the front of the building that we might have neglected if we didn't have the financial incentive," Sidel said.

Robert Radau, owner of Elmwood Specs, wants to redo the front doors, put in a new sign and repaint the building.

"General cosmetic improvements for the neighborhood," Radau said.

Jim Pepe, owner of Hodge Liquor, has his sights on new windows and awnings.

"I think it's a great program," Pepe said. "We can do quite a bit to dress up the front."

Annie Adams of Annie Adams Jewelry is one of many businesses that have taken advantage of a less-restricted matching grant offered by the Elmwood Village Association. Last year, Adams, owner of two buildings that house nine businesses operating as the Neighborhood Collective, used a $2,000 matching grant to improve signs and remove a metal fabricated awning considered an eyesore.

"[The grant] was fabulous. It enabled us to do twice as much work as we could afford," Adams said.

Azzarella said the association has notified eligible businesses of the Main Street Program and remains hopeful of generating more interest.

As the state grant deadline draws nearer, the neighborhood group is seeking an extension and seeking to determine whether unused funds could be allocated outside the specified areas.


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