The DO IT revitalization program was described in its 2016 application as “an initiative designed to assist Dover business owners with revitalizing the exterior aesthetics of their business.” The grant is awarded as a 75%/25% split, meaning the town will give a business 75% of the cost of a project if the business owner commits to paying the other 25%. The maximum amount of the grant is set to increase this year to $3,000 as opposed to last year’s $2,500.
In addition to the grant amount increase, some of the proposed changes to the guidelines include limiting applicants to commercial property owners and thus excluding lessees, expanding the application period, and giving priority to first time applicants. The new version of the guidelines also included a line that gave power to the selectboard to deny a request that they deemed inappropriate or objectionable. Chair Randall Terk suggested that the verbiage be expanded to also give the board the power to allow projects that don’t fit into the subscribed criteria if they choose.
The bulk of the debate about the changes centered around the switch from including all business owners (property owners or lessees) to limiting the grants to commercial property owners only. Vice chair Victoria Capitani said she felt excluding lessees could have a negative impact on new businesses.
“When you’re just starting a business, even $500 for a new sign makes a big difference,” said Capitani. “I think that signage should be included and I think it should be included for renters. I think signs are an important visibility tool. It’s a huge marketing tool. There should be some money allowed to renters to improve their presence in whatever building they happen to be in. Whether you’re new or old, it’s important to have a nice sign.”
Levine said that as a multi-tenant property owner, part of his pitch to potential lessees is that Dover is supportive of its businesses and that programs like DO IT are available to Dover business owners. Levine said that while signs were an obvious use for the grant, business owners have a range of projects they could use help with, including painting a storefront to match the store’s identity.
“Whether it needs it or not, that’s part of their identity and it’s beautifying the town and you’re helping to attract a tenant and jobs,” said Levine. “Without this, you’re taking away a good tool. Why should we take something, anything, away from the community that’s incentivizing businesses?”
Levine said that in the past, the grants have helped his tenants achieve things that, as a landlord, he may not be able to provide, including nice signs. Levine said he feels strongly that all of his tenants have high-quality signs, in the interest of the town’s overall push toward beautification, which the DO IT program was designed to support.
“You have to say to yourself, when it comes to the existing signs in this town, if you want to beautify, wouldn’t you want every tenant in this town to upgrade their sign?” said Levine.
Later, Levine asked why the town doesn’t simply offer every new business $2,000 for a new sign. Dover Historical Society President Dan Baliotti said a sign made all the difference for the historical society.
“Nobody even knew it existed until we put a sign up,” said Baliotti. “We spent $5,500 to build the structure, get the signage, and to light it. It’s the most important thing we’ve done.”
As the conversation continued, it was mentioned that there has never been a waiting list for the grant, implying that many businesses don’t take advantage of the available fund.
“I know why!” said Levine. “And honestly, I’m really getting sick of it! I’m upset right now. Because I was making a tremendous effort with my building to respond to that we want: beautification. I’m doing it with my soul, and I’m doing it with my wallet. But this municipality has not reached out to the business community. People don’t even know about (the grant). I really feel that this municipality should reach out to the people who are investing their souls and investing their dollars and buying properties here and encourage them. If you reach out, you might find there might be a waiting list. We have not done that as a town. If we want to beautify it, let’s reach out.”
Terk said that Levine’s point about reaching out would be addressed, and reminded the room that the board is in the process of looking for a new economic development director, which will be a full-time position. Currently, it’s part time. Black announced his impending retirement in 2016 and is currently helping the board find his replacement, who he hopes to have in place by spring or earlier.
Capitani said that she expects that when the new director begins, he or she will spend a good amount of time reaching out to the business community.
“They’re going to have to,” said Capitani. “And the board is going to have to have some more level of involvement on that. Ken’s going to be here for a while, but maybe that’s something the new economic development director should take on.”
Closing the discussion, Terk asked Black to amend the document to incorporate the discussed changes, including eligibility for all business owners and allowing for the board’s ultimate discretion in accepting or denying projects. Black said he will prepare a new draft for the board’s February 21 meeting, which will be made available on the town’s website in advance of the meeting.