City to apply for second round of rehabilitation grants

The city of Princeton is seeking  another Small Cities Development Program (SCDP) grant for assisting owners of homes and businesses in the city to do limited rehab work on their properties.

The cities of Milaca and Princeton are already jointly sharing a $547,400 SCDP grant received last June. The Lakes & Pines Community Action Council, based in Mora, is administering the grant and would administer the new SCDP grant if the city gets it. A portion of the grant goes for administration of the projects.

The Princeton City Council passed resolution 12-57 at its Sept. 13 meeting to seek the second grant. The resolution does not list the amount to be applied for, just stating that it will come from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Council members asked Dana Johnson, with Lakes & Pines, whether the city should be making a joint application with the city of Milaca for another SCDP grant. Johnson answered that cities now have a better chance under new guidelines of getting the grant if they apply solely. The old advice was to apply with another city.

Residential owners qualify on the basis of income for a particular family size. The grant to the homeowners is in the form of a 0 percent interest, 10-year loan up to a maximum of $23,000. The homeowners are each asked to match 10 percent of the total cost of improvements and they are to address:

• health and safety issues

• ramps, doors and bathroom accessibility conversions

• structure and exterior envelope such as foundation, windows, doors, siding and roofing.

The loan repayment amount is reduced 10 percent per year, with the total loan forgiven after 10 years if the recipient still owns and occupies the property.


Commercial rules

The commercial recipients also receive their assistance in the form of a no interest, 10-year loan, and it is also forgiven after 10 years if the building is owned by the borrower or is occupied by the same business. But in the case of commercial properties, the borrower must pay 50 percent of the total cost of the improvements, with the grant/loan paying the other 50 percent.

Since August 2011, the following activity took place with the first grant in the housing part of the grant distribution:

• Forty housing applications were received, with 26 of them returned, and 13 applications approved (six from Princeton and seven from Milaca), and five applications were denied. As of Sept. 13, six projects were given the go ahead to start construction, three each from Princeton and Milaca. Also, three other projects are complete, one from Princeton and two from Milaca.

On the commercial side, 15 applications were requested, and nine have been approved, six of those from Princeton and three from Milaca. One application from Milaca is being processed.

Three commercial projects are complete – one from Princeton and two from Milaca, while two in Princeton are approved to begin. Two Princeton projects need to close on the loan, while one Princeton project is out for bid and one Milaca project is in the prebid stage.


About some Princeton commercial projects

Data privacy is involved in the residential projects so names have not been released as to what residents are being helped through the grant, Princeton Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman said. But there is information on some commercial projects under the grant program and among those talking about them were Carol Ossell and Bob Soule Jr.

Ossell is owner, with her husband Charlie, of Ossell’s Department Store, and the building that houses it along with Hierlinger’s Shoes. That is one of the project buildings, along with the old creamery building that is owned by Soule, which is getting some work through the grant. Soule also noted that his parents, Bob and Madelyn Soule, own the old brick building that Princeton Book and Bible occupies, and which is also benefitting from the grant.

The work going on at the former creamery building is roofing, and replacement of some concrete wall caps. The work going on at Princeton Book & Bible has been to clean soot and dirt off the bricks through a process called soda blasting. Also, a contractor will be repointing the concrete between bricks on the building.

The work at the Ossell building included replacing interior lights, installing ceiling fans, applying ultraviolet protector material on windows, and making the entrance handicap accessible. Ossell estimates the assistance at $17,000. The maximum loan/grant allowed for any one commercial rehabilitation is $25,000.

Ossell, who has worked for four years to get the grant program going here, called the assistance a “godsend.” Ossell added that after former Princeton Community Development Director Jay Blake had figured out how the city could get such a grant for rehabilitation work on homes, she told Blake she thought the grant program could also be used by businesses.

Other commercial properties in Princeton that are involved in the program are:

• the building occupied by the Santa Lucia ice cream business. Its status is that the applicant is going out for a construction bid.

• the structure occupied by Thrifty White Pharmacy.

• the Rum River Automotive property.

Troy Minske, owner of Rum River Automotive, is having all of the interior fluorescent lights replaced with higher efficiency fluorescent fixtures. That will do several things, he said, listing them as improving energy efficiency of the lighting to save money and energy, and also to improve the lighting for the workers.

Bob Serchia, who owns the two-story, Thrifty White building with Mark Frank, noted that the old and very inefficient gas boiler in the gift shop area has been replaced with a modern, efficient, forced-air natural gas furnace through the grant. The rest of the project will be to replace the 15 windows in the upper part that has apartments, and that will mean a lot of energy savings for those tenants, Serchia said.

It wasn’t known at this writing what the plans are for the Santa Lucia building, but all of the commercial owners talked to so far in the Princeton end of the program are pleased for the assistance.

“You hear a lot of criticism about government spending,” Serchia said. “But this is government spending that works. It enables property owners to make improvements that they otherwise might not make.”