By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN "The fourth time is the charm,” Shannon Sweeney of David Drown Associates said in a Tuesday phone interview, soon after learning a $397,536 state grant had been awarded the cities of Winsted and Mayer.
Sweeney had applied for the small cities development funding for Winsted for four years in a row; the last three years he submitted the application as a cooperative agreement between Winsted and Mayer which will share the grant money to improve their downtown business areas.
The first year Sweeney submitted the application, City Administrator Brent Mareck estimated the city paid Sweeney and David Drown Associates $1,000.
“The following three years, Shannon and David Drown provided the assistance at no cost, so I think Shannon and David Drown should be commended for that,” Mareck said when he announced receiving the small cities’ grant at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Was Sweeney surprised to receive the grant after four tries?
“No, I thought we should have gotten it the first time,” Sweeney said. “I wouldn’t have written it, if I didn’t think we were going to get it.”
After the first year, Sweeney included the City of Mayer in the application because of a state program change.
“The state was looking for more than one city on an application,” Sweeney said. “The program, oftentimes, couldn’t serve a smaller community well in that there weren’t enough projects to justify the expense of the application and everything that was involved in administering it.”
“So, by having communities apply together, they can have a bigger project, it’s a little more efficient to administer, and they have a bigger impact on the program,” Sweeney said.
The grants were awarded under the Small Cities Development Program through funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Winsted, the money is to be used for First Street North and Main Avenue projects in the downtown area, according to Sweeney.
The program, which is administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), makes grants available to cities and townships with populations under 50,000 and counties with populations under 200,000.
To qualify for the funds, all projects must meet three federal objectives:
• benefit low- to moderate-income people.
• eliminate slum and blight conditions.
• eliminate an urgent threat to public safety.
Funding for projects will begin sometime in August.
“We will be working with the folks that have been working with us all along,” Sweeney said.
When the application was initially started, every building owner in the project area was contacted.
Those who took the time to participate in the process have already submitted information, according to Sweeney, and he needs to contact those property owners first.
There were 12 rental units and nine commercial units that had showed an interest in the funding.
The grant money will be accessed by the City of Winsted from DEED, as the projects are done.
Also included in the grant is money for administrators to work with the individual property owners to ensure the money is being used according to the grant stipulations.
If, after a year, there is still money available from the grant, it will be opened up to either community on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Sweeney.
A commercial rehabilitation program will provide up to $40,000 per property. Twenty-five percent of the project cost, up to $20,000, could be funded by a zero percent deferred loan that could be forgiven after seven years, if it meets certain criteria, according to Sweeney.
A rental rehabilitation program will provide up to $12,500 in grant funding per unit. Seventy percent of the project cost could be funded by a zero percent deferred loan that could be forgiven after seven years if it meets certain criteria, according to Sweeney.
One property owner could apply for both types of funding if the building owned has both commercial and rental use.
As loan money is repaid, it is returned to the city to be put into a revolving loan fund to help people with future projects.
“We are excited to get started on projects,” Mayor Steve Stotko said. “As the money becomes available, we will let people know how they can access it,” Stotko said.
“The timing is great,” Stotko said. “The promenade is done, and with material costs down and people looking for work, the money could stretch. . . “This is an opportunity for businesses to utilize this money to improve the look of our downtown.”