Canton got a $125,000 grant from the Rural Center’s Small Towns Economic Prosperity program to develop and implement ideas to increase tourism and commerce downtown.
About $25,000 has not yet been allocated, and now Canton leaders have until Jan. 1 to come up with quick but productive ways to spend the remaining money.
Jason Burrell, the town’s assistant town manager, said it shouldn’t be a problem to spend it, however.
“It is my expectation that all the money will be spent,” Burrell said.
Some of the grant money was used to encourage business owners to spruce up downtown buildings in hopes of drawing tourists and more commerce. The town would match façade improvements dollar-for-dollar up to $5,000 using the Rural Center funds.
About $17,000 have already gone to façade grants. That offer is still ongoing.
“We hopefully have a few more applications that will be submitted and approved by that,” said Canton Alderman Patrick Willis, who helped spearhead the revitalization initiative called STEPUP Canton.
But there weren’t as many takers as initially hoped, and so the town will extend the offer of matching funds for interior improvements, similar to the façade grants. But the improvements can’t be temporary, like slapping a new coat of paint up.
It must be “something that adds permanent value to the building,” Burrell said, giving examples such as bringing a building up to code or adding sheet rock. “Those type of things are eligible projects.”
Canton is also purchasing artistic quilt squares that will hang on four businesses downtown as well as one or two for town-owned buildings. The large wood squares painted with color quilt-block patterns have been placed on buildings, barns and stores as part of Haywood County’s Quilt Trail, which tourists can follow to see all the installations.
“That has been a pretty nice thing for tourism,” Willis said.
The squares have become so popular that the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority created a map showing visitors where they can find each square in the county. However, Burrell noticed one day that Canton was not included in the map at all.
“I thought, ‘God, Canton doesn’t even have a presence on this thing,’” he said.
The Rural Center money is also paying for four new welcome signs that will be placed at several different entranceways to Canton.