$500,000 grant to help revitalize downtown area

December 10, 2005|By RICHARD F. BELISLE


State Sen. Terry Punt announced Friday that Waynesboro will receive a $500,000 downtown revitalization grant from the state.

Punt, R-Waynesboro, included the grant in the new state budget. The money, which will help new and existing businesses, is expected to be available sometime around July 1, said MaryBeth Hockenberry, executive director of the Greater Waynesboro Chamber of Commerce.

The money will go to new businesses to help them pay their rent for the first three years, and will assist existing businesses with renovations and new equipment costs, Punt said.

Punt announced the grant at a chamber breakfast meeting attended by representatives of Main Street Waynesboro and Waynesboro Vision 2015.

Punt said the idea for a grant to bring much-needed economic development to the downtown business core came to him in the spring while he was recuperating from open-heart surgery.


One of two key elements of the grant calls for giving new businesses up to $1,000 per month toward rent in their first year of operation. The grant would pay 66 percent of the rent the second year and 33 percent the third year.

"It usually takes three years for a new business to turn a profit," Punt said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon.

The second element would provide a one-time, $50,000 matching grant for existing businesses to renovate buildings and upgrade equipment, Punt said.

Punt, who chairs the senate's Community and Economic Development Committee, said he plans to meet in January with representatives from the chamber, Main Street Waynesboro and Waynesboro Vision 2015 to get the program under way. A committee made up of representatives from each will be appointed, he said.

The program will be administered through the chamber, Hockenberry said.

Punt said he had time to think about downtown Waynesboro and its problems during his recuperation.

"I had seen a story in a newspaper about putting cobblestones in the street," Punt said. "We can decorate all we want, but we need businesses downtown to make it viable and have the kind of merchandise people want to bring them in. Stores will have to be open until 9 o'clock on Fridays like it was in the old days, not close at 5 o'clock."

"This is quite an innovation," Hockenberry said of the grant. "It's a wonderful gift to the community. It will help fill in the gaps and stabilize downtown. We're hopeful the new (Main Street Waynesboro Inc.) manager will take it over."

"We anticipate that we can do at least five businesses for this cycle of the funding," she said.

Hockenberry didn't know if follow-up grants would be approved.

"Grant money comes in cycles," she said.

Lloyd Hamberger, Waynesboro's borough manager, said Punt's grant "will be a great help toward the economic growth of the downtown. It shows Terry's commitment to Waynesboro, his hometown."

Jim Fisher, secretary of the board of Main Street Waynesboro, said the grant "could be very good if it helps to revive downtown."

"There are so many submarginal businesses downtown. We need more good businesses," Fisher said, using as examples such business successes as the new Hoover House restaurant and the TranquiliTea tea room.

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