By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
City aims at downtown business faade facelift program
Owners of tired exteriors in downtown Ceres may be offered an assistance program to help with facelift upgrades this year.

Old and outdated storefronts in downtown Ceres could receive a makeover designed to draw more foot traffic under a program being designed by city officials.

The program could be formalized in the next months as the city does what it can to add a fresh face to downtown. Some buildings in downtown date back as far back as the 1910s, 1920 and 1930s, and have been neglected.

Steve Hallam, the city's Economic Development Director, reported to the Ceres Planning Commission sitting as the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board (CDRAB) last week that he is trying to set up loaning out redevelopment funds to business owners who wish to gain a new look.

Hallam said the city may propose to use some of the funds collected by CDRAB merchants as matching dollars for façade design work costs. He also said he is scrambling to find "the big dollars" to help fund the actual construction work. He dismissed using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds because of regulations; then struck on the idea of using bond proceeds issued by the Ceres Redevelopment Agency (CRA) in 2006.

Last year the Ceres City Council agreed to spend $1.5 million from the 2006 bonds issued by the CRA on downtown. Hallam is seeking permission to use $250,000 of that amount to fund a 50/50 matching grant for construction of new facades. The loans would be capped at $10,000.

The downside to the plan, said Hallam, is that because redevelopment funds are being used, any façade improvement work would be subject to prevailing wages, which are substantially higher than non-union work.

The state abolished all redevelopment agencies in California in 2012, robbing local communities of their hopes and plans to rehabilitate older or undeveloped areas. But follow-up legislation extended the wind-down period. In Ceres case that allows the Ceres Redevelopment Agency Successor Agency to claim administrative funding support until July 2016. Hallam estimated that $250,000 will be available to fund economic development related activities.

All but one downtown church based uses are leased facilities, said Hallam, and such uses will be cycled out because they are now subject to a use permit.

Hallam also gave a report reflecting on CDRAB activities for the final quarter of calendar year 2014. He noted that the district had spent $3,846.73 while total revenue was $3,781. As of Dec. 30, 2014, CDRAB had a cash balance of $80,708.74. The board, said Hallam, has been mulling over what to do with the funds to promote downtown.

Currently the expenses cover regular clean-up of trash and debris from downtown as well as landscape maintenance, the hanging of banners, emptying of trash receptacles, and electricity for street lights.