Grant winners make early project gains

Winners of the Municipal Association’s Hometown Economic Development Grants program are putting their awards to work.

In October, the Municipal Association awarded eight cities grants of $25,000 each to implement economic development projects that will make a positive impact on the quality of life in their communities. The grant program also promotes and recognizes innovation in economic development practices.

The projects are underway and some winning cities are yielding early results.

Among them is the Town of Ridgeway’s "Paint the Town Red" campaign. Ridgeway’s three iconic structures — the School Arch, the World’s Smallest Police Station and its famous telephone booth, which still works for 25 cents — all attract visitors from around the world and are under restoration to ensure they last for the next generation, said Ridgeway Mayor Charlene Herring.

Ridgeway's School Arch

For two years, the Town of Ridgeway had proposed capital improvements for the sites.

"These improvements were not possible because of our limited budget," Herring said. "The Hometown Economic Development Grant provided an opportunity to secure funds to renovate these most photographed and visited iconic structures, which attract visitors from all South Carolina, the United States and world."

The School Arch is the remaining vestige of the former Ridgeway School and is the centerpiece of Ridgeway’s central park. However, because the Arch was in danger of collapse, the town had recently prohibited residents from approaching it.

The town has already used a portion of its Hometown Economic Development Grant funds to stabilize the Arch, do site grading of the park and install landscaping. The town has also received private donations in support of its work.

The police station and telephone booth have also received major repairs and upgrades from a new roof to new paint to new flooring.

"Improvements will generate more tourists and visitors who shop, dine and tour and thus a greater source of funding via the hospitality tax and use of the Arch Area for events," said Herring.

"Visitors to the Smallest Police Station/Welcome Center will be able to log in to the kiosk to learn about the town and businesses and take a photo as a memento of their visit.’"

Front of old police station with sign that says, "1940-1990." 
Ridgeway's Old Police Station

The Ridgeway mayor added that members of the public interested in holding events at the Arch Area in the Ridgeway Park will be able to rent the space for a fee for weddings, arts celebrations and other occasions.

The other cities awarded grants are making progress with their projects. Each city’s project must be completed by the end of 2018.

In the City of Gaffney, social media and traditional media coverage have generated substantial interest in the city’s Main Street Challenge program. All three local television stations ran stories on the Main Street Challenge, while local print media have also helped spread the word.

Gaffney City Hall

Forty entrepreneurs submitted applications seeking grant-funded assistance to open a new business in Gaffney’s downtown district. A panel of local judges reviewed applications before selecting 14 semifinalists to provide a business plan to be considered for assistance.

Three Main Street Challenge winners, to be named this month, will receive start-up loan assistance, rent reimbursement and multiple in-kind professional services funded by the Hometown Economic Development Grant.

The 2017 Hometown Economic Development Grant applications will be accepted online beginning July 20. This year, there will be as many as 10 awards of $25,000 for a maximum total of $250,000. Look for application information at the 2017 Annual Meeting and in the weekly Uptown Update starting in August.