Ames City Council discusses accessibility of the Facade Grant Programs


The Ames City Council in the fourth Steering Committee meeting discussed the components of the Ames Climate Action Plan.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly framed Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher as voting in opposition to the facade grant amendment. The article has since been corrected. The Daily regrets this error.

The Ames City Council voted on changes to programs that will improve the appearance of commercial buildings Tuesday. 

Since there have not been many grant applications to improve buildings near Iowa State’s campus, the city council voted to approve an amendment to the Campustown Facade Grant Program’s application deadline, allowing businesses to apply year-round. In the past, the application deadline was set at the end of February.

Although this decision may lessen competition for grants in the Campustown community, it will give businesses the flexibility to apply for the grant when they can and help prevent the money the city has budgeted from being unused. 

In addition, the city council discussed the Downtown Facade Grant Program. Introduced in 2000, the purpose of the program was to encourage the improvement of the facades of commercial buildings in Downtown Ames while keeping the historical character of the buildings intact.

The grant awards businesses up to $15,000 to improve the facade of a non-residential building that is generally more than 50 years old. Two grant periods are planned for each fiscal year — the first begins in May or June, and the second starts in October. 

During the meeting, the Council discussed option two of the amendment: A property could be awarded up to $30,000 if the project requires funds for the rehabilitation of historically significant, character-defining features if it could be tied to other grant-eligible work. This would be awarded over the two grant periods and phases. 

Chuck Winkleblack, a realtor for Hunziker & Associates in Ames, shared his concerns about the grant’s payment process through two phases. 

“If you knew whether you were going to get the grant, I think it would affect how phase one goes,” Winkleblack said. “I think whether you know whether you have the possibility of getting something might alter the design.” 

According to the Downtown Ames design guidelines, the grant is supposed to encourage businesses to stay true to Downtown Ames’ character– no-nonsense, efficient, matter-of-fact and plain-spoken. 

Ward 1 Rep. Gloria Betcher said she thinks that the option to apply for one of the two and the option to apply for both is essential. 

The original Council Action form made it sound like projects that applied only for the rehabilitation of historic elements would not be considered, and that both rehab and facade improvement would be required. 

“I’m not sure why we would see that as lesser than the facade work, because to me, the historical, those defining characteristics are more important than some new facade that’s put on a building,” said Betcher. “I’m not sure I value the whole package or at least not just the facade more than I value the rehabilitation work.” 

It was clarified that a project may be considered for the grant exclusively for one or the other, or even both.

As a historic preservationist, Betcher thinks that rehab should be allowed on its own for first-round grant applications as well as for second-round applications. 

The Ames City Council motioned to approve the amended Option 2 at a vote of 4-0 to allow the change to the grant program. The city council will continue to iron out the details of the downtown grant program during their coming meetings.

Full staff reports on these programs can be found on the City of Ames website.