The city of South Bend is continuing efforts to help small businesses maximize their properties and help create more vibrant thoroughfares. The city recently launched the Vibrant Places Matching Grant Program from which businesses can receive grants between $30,000-$80,000 to improve their facades and outdoor spaces.
Executive Director of Community Investment Caleb Bauer said the program is an expansion of the city’s previous Neighborhood Corridors program and makes the grants available to businesses throughout the city.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Bauer said the city wanted to build on the success of the earlier program.
“What we’ve seen with the initial versions of the program, which were smaller and more targeted…along some strategic corridors, is we’ve seen a lot of investment along those corridors paired with public investment in infrastructure improvements,” said Bauer. “And so, we’re really hoping to take that model and scale it up and expand it throughout the city.”
The city says it expects the program to generate about $1 million in investment throughout the city, funding projects such as storefront enhancements, upgraded signage and lighting, and sidewalk activations.
Through the program, businesses in the nine, previously-outlined Neighborhood Corridors will be eligible for a matching grant of up to $80,000. Eligible businesses outside of those areas will receive up to $30,000.
But the Vibrant Places program also has a focus on sustainability. The city says businesses could receive up to 20% more in funding for using environmentally-friendly materials for their projects.
“That could look like a business is hoping to make improvements to their facade, including new windows. If they choose to do Energy Star-rated windows, they can actually get a larger match percentage,” Bauer said. “That’s really hoping to off set the cost of making that sustainable choice and make it a net-neutral choice and really, an easy choice for the business.”
The grant also provides businesses with up to $30,000 toward solar panel installation, which Bauer said combined with the federal business solar tax credits, could cover up to 55% of the cost of a new system.
Bauer said the original program, which launched in 2015, had more than 70 businesses participate, some of which were repeat applicants. The expanded Vibrant Places program will also allow businesses to apply more than once.
“Just since we announced last week, we’ve already had 19 applications from local businesses,” he said. “Most of them are new, which is exciting. And then we have a few returning businesses as well.”
The project is being funded in part with funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. But Bauer said the city hopes to make it an ongoing program in the future with taxpayer support.
“It’s not something we’ve had to take to our common council for annual budget funding because of existing funds that were in a contract with the Urban Enterprise Association, a local nonprofit here,” he said. “It’s something that we will look to bring for annual funding in future years.”
You can learn more about the program by clicking here.