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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Facade Improvement Program is sprucing up downtown

BERLIN – While the town’s downtown character hasn’t changed, over the coming months the look will be a little fresher as local merchants continue to take advantage of the Berlin Main Street Facade Improvement Program sponsored by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

This week the town council approved the reimbursement payment to Ta-Da, the most recently completed facade replacement downtown. The Treasure Chest is near completion as well and the list of property owners applying for the matching grant continues to grow.

The Berlin Main Street Facade Improvement Program is aimed at encouraging businesses to invest in their exteriors by matching up to $10,000 worth of facade replacement or repair, allowing merchants to make up to $20,000 worth of improvements for half the cost.

While business owners can spend as much as they like enhancing their property’s face value, huge projects aren’t the rule. In addition to the obvious work done on the front of the Treasure Chest, Berlin Director of Economic and Community Development Michael Day said owner Terri Sexton also had the Broad Street gate at the building’s rear entrance was also replaced.

Similarly, the Baked Desserts building was recently approved to have a smaller amount of work done. The

North Main Street
shop will have window and door replacement done to the property, which will freshen it up without the expense of a total facade redo and still be covered by the matching grant.

On the south end of

Main Street
, Donaway Furniture has applied to have facade work done both on the main building and on the

Pitts Street

Last year

was awarded $75,000 in grants to administer the program. The way it works is the business owners applies for the grant and, after it’s approved, have the work done. When the project is over they submit their bills to the town, which reimburses half of the cost up to $10,000. The town then sends the bill to the state for reimbursement.

Day said there is still plenty of funding available for eligible businesses and that the state awarded

an additional $50,000 in facade grants this year. The town has two years to spend each grant.

Some business owners have taken out loans to maximize the amount of work they can get done and, while the town cannot provide direct loan assistance, Day said his department would gladly provide lenders proof that half of the project cost will be government-paid.

“The longest part of the process is getting approval from the Maryland Historic Trust,” Day said. “And their turnaround is 30 days.”

Because the

downtown area is an historic site as well, there is an additional approval step. The rest of the process can be measured in weeks or in some cases days.

The program is modeled after the successful Ocean City Development Corporation program that helped many of the resort’s business district’s businesses improve their look. So successful has that program been that it was recently expanded to include residences.

While Day said it was possible that

would eventually have the same kind of success, he pointed out that weather played a part in the resort’s expansion.

But as with much state money it’s a use it or lose it proposition, and for owners looking to increase both their property’s value and the area’s appeal it’s a hard deal to beat.