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Grant funds can improve store fronts throughout Jeannette

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Commercial property owners in Jeannette and potential business owners considering a move to the city can take advantage of a program that can help improve their properties.

A commercial property improvement program using limited Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds is available to building owners or prospective owners in the downtown area along Clay Avenue, Division Street and portions of West Jeannette.

Diana Reitz, the city's community development department, said the funds can be used for the acquisition of commercial buildings or the rehabilitation of a property.

She said the funds could technically be used to both purchase and renovate one property, but it would stretch the funds.

Most often, Reitz said, those taking advantage of the program use the funds to purchase a building.

The program offers financial assistance for up to half of the purchase price with a cap of $50,000 coming from the CDBG funds.

Half of the financial assistance will come in the form of a grant and the other half comes as a zero percent interest loan that must be repaid to the city within five years.

For example, if a prospective owner is purchasing a building at a cost of $40,000 the program would offer $20,000 ­— $10,000 of those funds would be given as a grant and the remaining $10,000 would be a loan with no interest to be repaid in five years.

When the loans are repaid, the money goes back into the fund to pay for future commercial property improvement projects.

When the funds are used to rehabilitate properties, the process is a bit different but the financial assistance is still 50 percent of the total spent.

Reitz said if the proposed renovation will cost $20,000, the business owner would put the $10,000 they intend to spend on the work into an escrow account with the city along with the $5,000 grant and the $5,000 no-interest loan.

The owner's share is spent first, with bills coming to the community development department and paid through the escrow account.

This set-up can help to ensure an owner's commitment to see a project through.

Reitz said loans can't be transferred so if a property is sold for any reason before the five-year loan is repaid, the loan remains the responsibility of the borrower.

This root of this program is to see that commercial properties are used and developed.

In that vein, Reitz said, if a prospective owner plans to purchase a vacant building or if a building in the program becomes vacant for more than three months, owners are expected to provide a plan of action to see that the building is used again.

If a building that has been improved or purchased with these CDBG funds sits vacant for three months and no plan of attack has been offered for filling the vacancy, the city will call in its loan and it will need to be repaid within six months.

“If you hit the fourth month (of vacancy), you're paying back the loan,” Reitz said.

“We're willing to work with owners, but we need something in writing that it's going to be occupied. These buildings need to be occupied.

“This program is to entice ownership and interest in potential businesses and to get rid of empty storefronts.”

In order to participate in this program, no person, corporation or entity can get these funds if they are in default of an obligation to the City of Jeannette, such as owing back taxes.

The goals of the program include providing an incentive for business and property owners to invest in properties, to improve the structural condition of commercial properties and increase property values, to create businesses and jobs in the city, to enhance the city's financial status by increasing municipal revenues and to promote an economically vibrant business district.

The program's central theme is to get rid of dilapidated and empty storefronts.

As a result, owners who use these funds must maintain all improvements for five years and must continuously occupy the structures for five years following the use of the funds.

Anyone interested in the commercial property improvement program can call 724-527-4000, ext 6.

Kristie Linden is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 724-838-5154.