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No takers in faade makeover program
The only improvements to downtown Ceres buildings have occurred without the assistance of the city of the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board -- mostly because of the prevailing wage requirement that comes with financial assistance. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

A year ago the city launched a funding assistance program in the hopes it would spur downtown merchants and property owners to improve building facades. On Monday city officials admitted that the requirement for work to be done at prevailing wage has resulted in no takers.

The city is offering 50-50 matching funds for owners who are willing to make private investments to update downtown storefronts. The program has two components. The first, funded by $25,000 out the assessments paid by downtown businesses, has the city issuing dollar-for-dollar grants of up to $1,500 for professional architectural and design assistance for owners desiring a new exterior. The firms will come up with ideas to spruce up facades. 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 a pool of $250,000 for matching grants of between $1,000 and $10,000 for the actual construction work.

Because public funds are used, all work is subject to much higher prevailing wage rates. Because prevailing wage can increase the cost of work by 50 percent, enthusiasm for the program has been quashed, said Steve Hallam, the city's Redevelopment & Economic Development Manager.

Since fall of 2015, the city had two bites on the program but no takers.

"They take a look at it and the prevailing wage and they're scared away," Hallam on Monday told the Ceres Downtown Revitalization Area Board, which is the Ceres Planning Commission wearing different hats.

After hearing that news, Board member Laurie Smith suggested reallocating $20,000 from program funds to a future downtown incentive program.

"I don't want to fund something that's not going to happen," said Smith.

Hallam urged the board to keep some money in the façade design program in case a merchant choses to participate. He asked the board to let the City Council decide on the matter.

Façade renovation has occurred in downtown without the city's help, he noted. Those improvements have been mostly aesthetics, he said.