Facade Improvement Program

Applications must be received by 3:00 p.m., Friday,
December 16, 2016 - See Application Form Below

Program Goal & Description

The City of Portland established a Facade Improvement Program over six years ago to help strengthen the revitalization of neighborhood and downtown commercial streets. This new round of Program funding is targeting Washington Avenue (from Congress to Fox Street) and St. John Street (from Congress to D Street).  The program provides grants of up to $20,000 and as small as $500 to property and business owners to be matched by their equal or greater investment of private funds, for the purpose of rehabilitating commercial storefronts and replacing deteriorated or poor quality commercial signs and awnings.

The Façade Improvement Program is funded by the City of Portland's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG Program, through the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Specific Objectives in Targeted Area

  • Encourage private investment in the visual improvement of storefronts, signs and awnings;
  • Enhance the appearance of the neighborhood's commercial area;
  • Reduce vacancies in storefronts and upper floors, expanding worker and shopper populations in the neighborhood;
  • Strengthen local business;
  • Rehabilitate or restore the original character of historic buildings;
  • Provide a catalyst for others to improve their buildings, signs, and awnings.

Sample Funding Scenarios

  1. Total cost of storefront facade improvement: $15,000
    • Grant - $7,500
    • Private Match - $7,500
  2. Total cost of storefront facade improvement: $50,000
    • Grant - $20,000
    • Private Match - $30,000
  3. Total cost of new awning: $4,500
    • Grant - $2,250
    • Private Match -$2,250
  4. Total cost of new sign: $2,000
    • Grant - $1,000
    • Private Match - $1,000
Applicants for the Portland Facade Improvement Program may also be eligible for the Maine Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. Contact Mike Johnson at the Maine Historic Preservation Commission (207-287-2132) with any questions.

Eligibility for Facade Improvement Program

  • Eligible projects include commercial storefronts, signs and awnings that are located on Washington Avenue (between Congress and Fox Streets) and St. John Street (between Congress and D Streets) and visible from the public way;
  • The grant applicant must be a building owner or business owner leasing a storefront;
  • Tenants must have the property owner’s signed approval for proposed projects;
  • Business must serve predominantly low/moderate income customers;
  • For sign and awning projects, tenant must have at least two years remaining in lease at location of proposed project and/or option to renew for at least two years;
  • Building projects should be designed by a qualified design professional and signs or awnings must be produced by a professional sign or awning company;
  • The project applicant must owe no outstanding property taxes, fees, judgments, or liens to the City of Portland and have no outstanding code violations

Ineligible Activities

  • Interior repairs not integral to the exterior storefront improvement
  • New building construction
  • Purchase of property / equipment

Application Review Criteria

The Facade Improvement Program Committee (composed of City staff from the Economic Development, and Planning and Urban Development Departments, and two members from the community) will evaluate applications for eligibility and how effectively they meet the program criteria. It is anticipated that there will be more demand than available funds. Funding will be provided to those applications receiving the overall highest scores until the grant funds are exhausted.

Specifically, a project application will be scored on how well it meets each of the program criteria, using a rating scale from 0 (does not meet the criterion at all) to 5 (completely meets the criterion). A total point score will be based on the sum of the ratings. The criteria are as follows:
  • Degree of visual improvement the proposed project will bring to the storefront;
  • Visual prominence of the project within the street scape;
  • Given limited program resources, additional points will be given to applications in which the private investment will be greater than 50% of the project budget

Application Submission Requirements

 The application and required attachments must be received by 3:00 p.m., Friday, December 16, 2016 electronically by email to nrh@portlandmaine.gov or in hard copy (paper) to the City's Economic Development Department, City Hall, 389 Congress Street, Room 308, Portland, ME  04101.
Applications will be considered only if they are filled out completely and include the following attachments: 

  • Full description of the project;
  • Explanation of the specific proposed storefront improvements that you want to restore, rehabilitate, modify or replace with the total of the grant and your match funds;
  • Close up photograph of the storefront in its current condition, and a second photograph of the entire building façade showing the adjacent buildings on either side;
  • A preliminary sketch of the proposed improvements would be helpful but is not required with the application;
  • Description of the private investment source that will be used to match the grant request.  (For example, applicant has all cash on hand or has $_________ in cash on hand, but will also need a commercial loan of $_________ from a bank or the City of Portland to make up the difference.)
Applicants are welcome to contact Nelle Hanig (756-8019 or nrh@portlandmaine.gov) in the City's Economic Development Department with questions and/or to discuss their projects prior to submitting an application.

Process for Reviewing Applications

The Program Committee will review each application for eligibility.  A meeting with each of the applicants will then be scheduled with the Committee to discuss project design, budgets, matching funds and timelines. The Committee will then determine final scores and award grants to those projects that score highest.

Conditions for Participation

The applicant will be required to sign a contract with the City to the effect that the conditions of the City of Portland Facade Improvement Program are understood and will be abided by, as follows:

Storefront Projects

  • Design Professional: The Facade Improvement Program requires that all substantial storefront projects use the services of a design professional and/or engineer. The architect/design professional will develop project drawings, meet with the Façade Program Committee and the Planning Staff or Board, if needed.  Once drawings are finalized and the City approves them, they are submitted to the State for environmental approval.  Find an architect links:  http://www.portlandarchitects.org/members/ and http://aiamaine.org/architect-members/
  • Contractor Proposals: Grant recipients must get three quotes from vendors prior to choosing a contractor if the total project cost is anticipated to be $5,000 or more. Projects that are under $5,000 will not need three quotes.  The construction proposal chosen by the grant recipient needs to be reviewed and approved by the Program Committee for cost reasonableness and contractor qualifications. Contractor proposals should include scope of work, itemized project budget, timeline and qualifications. 
  • Contractors Compliance: Since the grant funds are federal monies, contractors that are not sole proprietors will need to abide by federal wage rates and regulations (Davis-Bacon). The City will provide assistance with compliance. A certified payroll must be submitted with each invoice. If a project is over $50,000, the contractor should be bondable. 
  • Meeting with Contractor: A contract signing and pre-construction meeting with the contractor, grantee, and City staff (Program Manager, Urban Designer, and Community Development Block Grant Manager) is required prior to any work commencing on a storefront project.
  • Security Interest: Applicable City policy requires that the City obtain a security interest in the real property improved with CDBG funds, in the form of a promissory note and mortgage deed for five years from the time the project has been completed. If the building is sold before five years, a portion of the grant funds must be repaid. This repayment amount declines annually, with a 20% decrease per year for the five-year term. If the project has been modified within the five year period, the city may demand partial repayment of the grant funds on a pro rata basis.

Sign and Awning Projects

  • Bids and Approvals: Signs and awnings must be designed and crafted by a professional.  Sign and awning projects that are $5,000 or more must obtain quotes from three vendors. Contractor proposals should include scope of work, itemized project budget, timeline and qualifications. The final project design needs to be approved by the Program Committee prior to any work commencing, and must comply with all applicable state and local permits and approvals.
  • Contract Signing:  A contract signing and pre-construction meeting with the contractor, grantee, and City staff (Program Manager, Urban Designer, and Community Development Block Grant Manager) is required prior to any work commencing on sign or awning project.
  • Improvement Protection: Signs and awnings must remain in place and unaltered for three years from the date the improvements are completed, per the grant agreement. If such improvements are removed or modified within the three year period, the City may demand partial repayment of the grant funds on a pro rata basis.

All Projects

  • Advance Payment: No grant or private funds may be paid in advance of work being performed without the approval of the Program Manager.
  • Invoice Review and Approval: Prior to payment of any invoice for completed work, whether with private funds or grant funds, the invoice must be provided to the Program Committee for review and approval that work was completed and done per the approved drawings. Without this prior approval, grant funds will not be made available for a project. The final invoice will be paid after the City's Urban Designer has conducted a final inspection and signed off that all work has been satisfactorily completed. Each invoice must be accompanied by an authorization to pay from the grant recipient with all contractor, designer or supplier invoices attached, plus appropriate certified payroll (Davis Bacon), if applicable, for the period of time covered by the invoices.
  • Payment of Private Match: Each grant recipient’s private funding match must be used in its entirety in payment of project invoices before grant funding is made available. Payment of invoices with grant funds will be done by check made out to the grantee.
  • One Year Completion: The project must be completed within one year from the date the grant agreement with the City is signed.
The Facade Program is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant. All relevant federal regulation applies.

Please note that grant funds will not pay for expenses incurred prior to the grant award and prior to Program Manager's approval of invoices.

Contacts for Facade Improvement Program