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The Facade Improvement Grant Program provides matching grants up to $10,000 per facade ($25,000 for flatiron buildings) for fixing and improving the appearance of facades on commercial buildings in certain areas of the city. The program was established in 2004 as a way to support local businesses by encouraging business and property owners to reinvest in commercial properties in the downtown and neighborhood business districts. The program’s current target area includes commercial buildings along Monroe St., Park St., Atwood Ave., Sherman Ave., Williamson St., the Capitol Square and State St. area, and other neighborhood commercial districts.
Since its inception the program has awarded 56 grants totaling $732,957, and has leveraged $1,334,331 in private investment in commercial properties, for total investments of $2,067,288. The program was intended to encourage “uncovering and restoring historic facades,” and generally “enhancing” and “beautifying” commercial facades. It does not specify design guidelines, but projects must be reviewed by the Urban Design Commission and other commissions if necessitated by zoning regulations. Several grant recipients have received Historic Preservation Awards from the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation for the grant-funded work, including Roman Candle Pizza on Williamson St., and the Plough Inn and Neuhauser Pharmacy on Monroe St. The recently reopened Livingston Inn B&B (752 E. Gorham St.) received a grant last year to restore the ornate Gothic front porch. That project required a waiver because the property is not in one of the program’s target areas but is a city Landmark.
The expansion of the Facade Improvement Grant program is a financial incentive for the repair and maintenance of those Landmarks that become eligible for the program, where there is now virtually no incentive for appropriate treatment of locally designated historic properties. Madison’s Landmarks ordinance, like those of many other cities, acts as a stick, compelling appropriate treatment through zoning regulation, where the federal historic preservation program (the National Register of Historic Places) acts more like a carrot, incentivizing appropriate treatment with tax credits and providing no consequences for inappropriate treatment. Many cities offset the encumbrance of local designation by offering financial incentives or assistance for the proper maintenance of historic properties. Property tax relief is a common incentive but is disallowed in Wisconsin by a uniformity clause in our state constitution. The only other financial relief we offer in Madison is a waiver of encroachment fees for designated Landmarks with building elements that hang over (encroach on) the public right-of-way. The Majestic Theater, with its overhanging marquee, is a good example. The waiver affects less than a dozen Landmarks.
The expansion of the Facade Improvement Grant Program is a positive step toward a package of incentive options that Madison should continue to develop for owners of city Landmarks. Since Landmark designation requires the submission of a property owner to an additional layer of zoning regulation designed to contribute to the public benefit, and since not all local Landmarks are listed on the National Register (and therefore eligible for the tax credit program) the city should continue to find ways to help offset the costs of complying with design guidelines for Landmarks and Historic Districts.
Landmarks that are now eligible for the program are:
- Luther Memorial Chapel (Church Key Bar) – 626 University Ave.
- Milwaukee Road Depot – 640 W. Washington Ave.
- Longfellow School – 210 S. Brooks St.
- Madison Catholic Assn. Clubhouse – 15 E. Wilson St.
- Madison Club – 5 E. Wilson St.
- Stoner House – 321 S. Hamilton St.
- Heistand School – 4418 Milwaukee St.
- Stang-Wirth House – 2817 Milwaukee St.
- Gisholt Machine Co. Manufacturing Complex – 1245 E. Washington Ave.
- Fuller & Johnson Manufacturing Co. Office Building – 1356 E. Washington Ave.
- Kayser House – 802 E. Gorham St.
- Leitch House – 752 E. Gorham St.
- Pierce House – 424 N. Pinckney St.
- Stevens House – 401 N. Carroll St.
- First Church of Christ, Scientist – 315 Wisconsin Ave.
- Bush House – 14 S. Broom St.
- Casserly House – 403 W. Washington Ave.
Category: Executive Director's Blog