KENDALLVILLE — A dozen? Psssh. Make it two dozen, plus one.
Downtown building owners entered a total 25 buildings into consideration for funding through Kendallville’s $2 million PreservINg Main Street.
That final count smashed expectations that city officials had just made a few weeks ago, when they had 10 applications in and said they anticipated having about a dozen by the Jan. 3 deadline.
What actually happened was a flood of last-minute signups that has taken city leaders from wondering if they’d had enough work to fill out the $2 million budget to now perhaps having to cut a few buildings out because the money might not be enough to cover everyone.
On Wednesday, a steering committee of local officials were meeting to go through a scoring process on each application to set up a priority list that will help determine which buildings get a piece of the $2 million grant and which might have to be sidelined for now.
“I think this is fantastic news, and in fact we’re zooming today to go through and rank these applications on who has their funding lined up, what they’re planning to do to their building,” Mayor Suzanne Handshoe said Thursday morning. “I was pleased with the 12 or 13. Now this is really great news.”
Kendallville’s downtown has just over 60 buildings, so getting 25 of them involved in the grant represents almost half of the downtown inventory.
Kendallville was one of 25 communities to apply for the new pilot program from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and then was selected as one of five finalists for consideration. The state had originally said only a sole community would be funded, but then ended up selecting two to get the $2 million grant, with Kendallville and Brookville getting the awards.
Two weeks ago, city leaders predicted they’d have about a dozen buildings submitted for the project, which raised questions about whether the city might have money left over and, if so, would they be able to keep it and utilize it in a second round of projects?
But the final application flurry blew those initial expectations away and now the it’s unclear whether there will be enough grant money to share with everyone who wants some.
The grant provides up to 85% of the cost of facade work, with a specific focus on historic preservation and restoration. Building owners are being required to chip in a 15% match, which is significantly lower buy-in than the 50/50 matching grants the Kendallville Redevelopment Commission regularly offers for facade work.
One other huge difference between the PreservINg Main Street grant program and the city’s usual facade grants is that the RDC’s program is capped at 50% of the cost up to $15,000, so building owners with very expensive projects can only get a maximum of $15,000.
The city’s $2 million grant does not have a cap on project cost, so building owners can potentially get major renovation at the 85/15 split, as long as the project gets greenlit as part of the overall construction package.
Kristen Johnson, the outgoing Kendallville Area Chamber of Commerce executive director who became the city’s first full-time Main Street manager starting Jan. 10, said the grant’s steering committee will be scoring the applications and setting up a priority list.
The scoring matrix the city is using has seven categories — project oversight, community and public support, building use, private sector support, case statement/need, overall impact and discretionary — that will determine a ranking for projects.
Handshoe, who is one of the scorers, said she’ll be looking for projects that have their matching funds ready to go as well as give greater consideration to buildings that are the most in need of a major makeover.
For example, the nearly two-decade vacant Relaxation Station at 101 N. Main St. is in much greater need of a facelift than the Hosler Realty building, which has just recently gone through major updates and is already one of the downtown’s better looking storefronts.
“I think mostly (what I’m looking for) is the exterior of the building right now in really disrepair or is it really needing help?” Handshoe said, adding she’s like to see “Things that will make a drastic improvement to the exterior of the building.”
But, Handshoe acknowledged she’s just one of the scorers and other people on the steering committee may have different priorities or value different aspects of projects in different ways.
Once the city gets its rankings set, the next steps in the process would be to start connecting building owners with the architecture firm MartinRiley of Fort Wayne to begin drafting designs and estimating costs, Johnson said.
Those cost estimates will be an integral part of figuring out how many buildings the city can reasonably afford with its $2 million.
Once those designs are completed, the city must publicly bid the facade project to contractors. Handshoe said the city is on an aggressive timeline and hopes to take the project to bid by May, with hopes of construction starting rapidly this summer.
Those final bids will ultimately determine the size and scope of the project based on their construction prices and how much money is available.
The construction project is going to be sizable for any contractor to take on and ongoing supply chain issues for materials may throw some wrenches into the city’s plans. The state has set a two-year window from the award date for projects to complete — that would put the completion deadline in fall 2023.
A construction project that could potentially involve up to two dozen buildings is going to be a huge undertaking for any contractor, but Handshoe said the city is in bi-monthly conversation with a liaison from OCRA, so if there are unavoidable delays or lengthy construction, the mayor said she’s confident they will be able to communicate those with the state and make adjustments as needed.