Local officials announce details of a $300,000 downtown development grant. The grant will go to help finance renovations projects for downtown Van Wert buildings. Pictured are (front row, from left): Van Wert County Economic Development Director Sarah Smith, Van Wert County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum,  Main Street Van Wert Program Director Adam Ries, and Van Wert Mayor Don Farmer; (back row, from left) Van Wert County Commissioner Thad Lichtensteiger, Van Wert Municipal Court Judge Jill Leatherman, City Councilman Jerry Mazur, and Van Wert Community Development Director Cindy Leis. (DHI Media/Ed Gebert)
Local officials announce details of a $300,000 downtown development grant. The grant will go to help finance renovations projects for downtown Van Wert buildings. Pictured are (front row, from left): Van Wert County Economic Development Director Sarah Smith, Van Wert County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum, Main Street Van Wert Program Director Adam Ries, and Van Wert Mayor Don Farmer; (back row, from left) Van Wert County Commissioner Thad Lichtensteiger, Van Wert Municipal Court Judge Jill Leatherman, City Councilman Jerry Mazur, and Van Wert Community Development Director Cindy Leis. (DHI Media/Ed Gebert)
VAN WERT — Another round of state money will be going to improve buildings in downtown Van Wert. The county was a $300,000 grant to go toward downtown revitalization.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize how much has changed in the past ten years,” remarked Van Wert Mayor Don Farmer.

The changes in the past decade have been partly thanks to state grant money that has been used to help fund renovation projects to many downtown storefronts and historic buildings. This time around, a consortium of city and county officials put effort behind a grant application and the results were announced Wednesday afternoon in a press conference at the Van Wert Municipal Court.

“The proposal from the Van Wert County Commissioners Economic Development Department and Main Street Van Wert, Inc. was one of 34 winning applications from across the state,” announced Board of Commissioners Chairman Todd Wolfrum. “The Ohio Development Services Agency received 75 proposals and ours was among the most competitive. We are very happy that, as a result of collaboration, strategic thinking, and hard work, Van Wert County will get its share—$300,000—of the $9.5 million in federal funds the state has set aside for this kind of work.”



“This program targets improvements like roof replacement, window repair, storefront renovation, interior code updates, and sidewalk repair,” Main Street Van Wert Program Director Adam Ries said. “Property and business owners may be able to receive partial reimbursement for these kinds of expenses, which can be substantial for older buildings. Our aim is to assist in that process and maximize the grant in such a way that our downtown continues to attract other new businesses, shoppers, and visitors, bringing more revenue into the community.”

“All of this came together to help leverage almost 60 percent participation from our current downtown business owners who will, over the next two years, help transform the face of downtown Van Wert,” noted Van Wert County Economic Development Director Sarah Smith. “This re-investment into the community and sense of pride at our county seat will spread throughout the county, and I hope to see more projects and ideas and investment from within,” Smith said.

There is still some administration work to do before downtown businesses can sign up. Ries noted that there will be a series of public meetings scheduled soon to alert downtown building and business owners about the ways the grant monies may be used.

Ries also explained that participants could be reimbursed for up to 50 percent of a project’s cost or up to a total of $10,000 per project. Funding will be available from January 2015-August 2016. Projects like roof replacements, storefront facade improvements and even making a currently unoccupiable building safe and useful can be completed with assistance through this grant.

A group of public officials assembled to announce the news in a gathering which celebrated the cooperation among people and organizations to win the grant.

“This award would not have happened without collaboration. Adam Ries with Main Street Van Wert, our consultant Danielle Steinhauser, Judge Jill Leatherman, the county commissioners, Jay Fleming and the City of Van Wert, all of the business and building owners downtown and the entire community pulled together. This is truly a case where synergy and cooperation really paid off,” Smith commented. “Also important was the attitude of the county commissioners to take an active role in economic and community development and make themselves aware of these opportunities and to aggressively go after these grants and apply for them. It’s now required to go through the county to apply for these grants, do it was important for them to be on board with this and make these decisions. And also validation for our Main Street program. This proves that without Program Manager Adam Ries’ relationship with the building and business owners and his knowledge of downtown this wouldn’t have been possible.

Also earning praise was Van Wert Municipal Court Judge Jill Leatherman. Her project which will convert the former First Financial building at Main and Washington streets into the soon-to-be new Municipal Court Building was planned for an April start, but delays slowed the start of work. When she heard about the grant application, Leatherman delayed work on the project so that it could be used as leverage for grant money.

Leatherman shared, “Working on the renovation and purchase project for relocating the Municipal Court thing just fell into place perfectly. I’m looking forward to becoming a good neighbor to the other businesses that are downtown.”

Smith pointed out, “There’s a good chance we wouldn’t have got this without the judge’s help. She delayed her project so she could use her funds in what we were doing. The whole downtown project was more funded and it made our grant more viable. And that’s a huge part of what happened here.”

“This is huge,” said Wolfrum.