MOREHEAD CITY – Downtown Morehead City Inc. is growing its Matching Façade Improvement Grant Program in hopes of improving the appearance of the area and drawing more visitors.

Downtown business owners are able to apply for a matching grant up to $5,000, meaning, if the business and Downtown Morehead City Inc. each contribute the maximum amount of $5,000, the owners have $10,000 total to make improvements. DMC recently upped its match amount for the grant, and Executive Director Lisa Rueh said the organization has seen increased interest in the program over the past year or so.

“We have awarded four matching façade grants. We’ve got three more that are going up for approval at this month’s design committee and we’re expecting two to three more (applicants),” she told the News-Times recently. “It is taking off.”

The purpose of the grant program is to help rehabilitate the historic downtown Morehead City district and preserve the unique character of the buildings. Grant funds can go toward improvements like paint jobs, new signage, wall art or other exterior enhancements.

“That’s huge, if you think about what that does. Seven or eight businesses a year at that much ($10,000), that does nothing but improve the beautification of downtown, it makes other businesses want to come downtown, plus it just creates a sense of community pride,” Ms. Rueh said.

An applicant must submit a rendering showing the changes they intend to make, which DMC’s design committee reviews and either approves or denies. The applicant must also obtain several quotes for the proposed work. Ms. Rueh said DMC staff typically works closely with business owners to help their applications be successful, and funds are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We present to the potential façade grant (applicant) what we think would look great, so we actually pick the colors out for them, the details … Sometimes we approach the applicant with this rendering or sometimes they ask for our help,” she said. “…Each building calls for a different look. You kind of look at the history of the building, where it’s been and what’s in it. It’s real exciting.”

Ms. Rueh said the four businesses that were recently awarded façade grants are Seaport Antiques, Carteret Community Theatre, Hope Mission and Concepts Earrings and Jewelry. Applications from Ace Marine, Tight Lines Pub & Brewing Co. and the Arendell Room are up for consideration by the design committee this month.

Laurie Smith with Concepts Earrings and Jewelry, a wholesale distributor of earrings made with allergy-free materials, said she is excited to have received the façade grant. She said she still has to choose between a couple improvement options for her building at 1000 Arendell St.

“We haven’t officially decided what plan we’re going to go with,” she said. “…We had damage from (Hurricane) Florence and then more damage from (Hurricane) Dorian, and the façade grant was a really great opportunity for us because our deductible well exceeded the damage that we incurred.”

Ms. Smith said in addition to making repairs and other enhancements to the building façade, she plans to make some landscaping improvements. She heard about the grant opportunity directly from DMC and said the process was generally positive.

“The process was not difficult, everybody is very easy to work with,” she said. “I think my most difficult thing was getting quotes because everybody (contractors) is still so busy, they just are.”

Concepts Earrings and Jewelry has been around since 1973 and been located in the same building in downtown Morehead City since 1975. Ms. Smith said her father used to own the business, which at one point operated a storefront to sell jewelry and some other side ventures. Now, the jewelry maker distributes its goods to a few local boutiques and other sellers, such as JR Dunn Jewelers in Morehead City and Emerald Isle and Silver Line in Morehead City. The shop also produces marketing materials for jewelry businesses.

Ms. Smith plans to get started on repairs related to the façade grant around March. DMC distributes grant funds after the work has been completed, and the program is not eligible for work that has already been completed.

“We’re just really thankful for the façade grant, it’s kind of given me the ability to do the front repair,” Ms. Smith said. “While it’s not structurally necessary, it’s definitely aesthetically necessary, and I’m happy to be able to be able to improve my buildings to be a better representation in the town of Morehead City, and I think that’s really important.”

For more information on the Matching Façade Grant Improvement Program, including an application and more information about how to apply, visit the DMC website at downtownmoreheadcity.com.

Contact Elise Clouser at elise@thenewstimes.com; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.

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