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City Council approves list of architects to help with downtown faade improvements
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Downtown Ceres has a worn look and city officials are hoping that business owners take advantage of a facade improvement assistance program. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

A list of three architecture firms has been produced by the city to assist downtown businesses who are interested in partaking in the city's façade improvement program.

The city will allocate matching funds for owners who are
willing to make private investments to update downtown storefronts. The city's oldest commercial district, with its obvious signs of neglect and lack a cohesive design scheme, does not welcome shoppers, some insist. The city hopes that the program, which has plenty of strings attached, will kick-start some action.

Last week the City Council approved a master services agreement with the firms of Pacific Design Associates, Inc., of Modesto, Vargas-Greene Architecture - Civic Design of Oakland, and WMB of Stockton.

The program has two components. The first, funded by $25,000 out the assessments paid by downtown businesses, has the city giving dollar-for-dollar grants of up to $1,500 for professional architectural and design assistance for owners desiring a new exterior. Steve Hallam, the city's Redevelopment & Economic Development Manager, said the cap on costs of design is $3,000. However, the actual blueprints would be a separate cost which owners would have to cover, along with building permit fees.

The second component sets aside $250,000 for matching grants of $1,000 up to $10,000 for the actual construction work.

Any participating business or landlord must undergo the city's design assistance component, which Hallam says will ensure that façade improvements will be "consistent with the city's aesthetic objectives" set out in the 2011 Downtown Specific Plan. Owners will be able to pick from a pre-approved list of designers who are familiar with the program.

Owners must also sign an agreement that they will keep the façade improvements looking good for five years.

Downtown buildings used as churches will not be eligible for the program.

"We want to target businesses that are actively promoting a vibrant downtown Monday through Friday, 8 to 5, and on the weekends," said Hallam.

He said if someone needs structural modifications, the costs would probably exceed the program's limits. If that happens, he said the city can consider increasing assistance on a case by case basis.

Hallam estimated that about 15 businesses could take advantage of the program affecting 30 buildings.

Tom Westbrook, director of Community Development, said it's possible that a business owner could take advantage of the design assistance program while contracting out the work on their own to get the work done cheaper.