JACKSONVILLE — City leaders agreed Monday to allocate $20,000 to meet growing demand for a program that helps improve storefronts downtown.

Jacksonville City Council members learned that the city’s facade grant program, started in October, has become so popular that it has already spent its initial $15,000 and needed the extra money for planned storefront upgrades. The program’s goal is to maintain the downtown’s historic character while improving its look, with the hope that it will be more appealing and attract new businesses and customers, city officials have said.

The council approved the $20,000 allocation during its regular meeting. The money will come from the city’s general fund.

“We have more applications than we have money for,” Kim McCutcheon, chairwoman of the Commercial Development Authority, which oversees the program, said at the meeting. “We’ve got one pending and expect at least three more … right now I know we need the $20,000.”

The program covers commercial properties in the city’s Overlay District, within the boundaries of Church Avenue and Gayle Avenue and College Street and Coffee Street. The program is mainly focused on the city’s square, founded with the city in 1833 and the oldest downtown in Calhoun County.

Applicants who meet CDA criteria for the program receive up to $5,000 toward reimbursement of the costs of exterior building improvement downtown. Property owners and business tenants in the downtown area can apply.

There are two different grants available. The base grant for projects up to $2,500 do not require private matching funds. Matching private money of up to $2,500 is required to obtain $5,000 in grant money.

Grant improvements can include, but are not limited to, improved signs and awnings, the restoration of doors, windows and chimneys and storefronts, painting and accessibility improvements.

McCutcheon said Wise Guys Pizzeria on the Square recently spent $11,000 to upgrade its facade. Another $8,275 was spent to upgrade the property near the square beside Brother’s Bar.

“I think it’s gone real well,” Mayor Johnny Smith said of the program after the meeting. “It’s done a real difference to how the square looks and I hope it helps attract some more business there.”

Also during the meeting, the council approved a five-year tax abatement for Bear & Son Cutlery in Jacksonville. The abatement is for city sales, use and property taxes, except for schools, on the purchase of new equipment. Ken Griffey, president and owner of the knife manufacturer, said at the meeting that new equipment is needed to meet growing demand. The company would also need to hire at least 11 new workers because of the equipment purchases, Griffey said.

The company currently has more than 80 full-time and part-time workers.

“This will give us a need for more jobs because we’ll need our departments to produce more knives,” Griffey said.

The council also approved a job description for its city administrator position. The job position includes a salary range of $56,160 to $92,872 a year.

Jarrod Simmons, Jacksonville’s previous and first city administrator, left in November after three years to work as finance director for the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board.

Smith said the city Civil Service Board would meet next week and vote on whether to approve the job description. If it’s approved, the job opening will be advertised for three weeks.

“We’re looking at a three- to four-month process before we might hire somebody,” Smith said.

During the meeting, the council also approved an agreement with LimeBike, a bicycle sharing company, to bring free bicycles to the city. The agreement is part of a larger deal to distribute 500 bicycles among several cities in Calhoun County by the spring.

The company provides the bikes free to cities, but charges residents $1 per 30 minutes to use them, she said.

Residents purchase time on the bicycles using a smartphone app provided by the company. A device locks the bicycle wheels in place when they’re not being used. All the bicycles are fitted with GPS tracking devices to deter theft.



Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.