Town leaders have been working steadily over the last couple of years to revive Canton’s dilapidated downtown by creating an economic development initiative, adopting downtown commercial maintenance standards, completing beautification projects and trying to host more events downtown.
It’s been a slow and steady process, but Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss said the board of aldermen is beginning to see some good indicators of success — Kobe Express opened another location on the corner of Park Street and Main Street, Smoky Mountain Sub Shop is getting ready to open a location in downtown, more people are getting their vacant buildings ready to sell and more people are interested in buying downtown real estate.
While the board has met many of its economic development goals, Assistant Town Manager Jason Burrell said the next step is to approve a policy for offering economic development incentive options for building and business owners downtown.
“We’re basically throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at folks to help them help us,” Burrell said. “This is everything we can do under the law to help people.”
The proposed policy offers seven different grant options for industries, developers and entrepreneurs wanting to start a business in Canton and also grants for existing commercial real estate owners wanting to make improvements to their buildings.
“The size and scope of the potential incentives will be based on a number of factors, including the category of incentive requested; the location of the site; the amount of capital investment in the project; the number of employees and the equity and quality of jobs created,” the policy states. “A major component of the incentive policy is to foster sustainable business and create quality jobs that will in turn stimulate the economy and further economic development potential.”
The incentive plan was put before the board of aldermen and approved during a March 10 meeting.
If the town moves forward with implementing these programs, Burrell said, state law requires that the town designate a Business Improvement District area in order to offer some of the incentives. A public hearing would have to be held before that district is finalized. As the town begins to hold budget workshops in the coming months, the board will discuss possible funding allocations for these programs.
Here are the options laid out in the incentives policy:
Economic Development Assistance Program — A financial incentive between the town and a new or existing commercial entity where the town can issue a grant for up to five years in exchange for a new capital investment and a certain number of full-time jobs. The grant will be calculated and based on the actual value, schedule and payment of property taxes. Under this option, a qualified business would pay its property taxes but would then be reimbursed a portion of the taxes based on the grant agreement with the town. The grant applicant must renovate an existing building or construct a new building for a minimum investment of $1.5 million. An existing business looking to relocate must have a minimum of 10 full-time jobs with a promise to expand its labor force in whatever way is agreed upon in the grant. Eligible industries include manufacturing, service industry, distribution, administrative management, transportation, brewing and other tourism-related businesses.
Small Business Development Incentive — This incentive is designed to provide the same kind of assistance as the first program but specifically for building or business owners wanting to invest in redevelopment projects between $200,000 and $1.49 million. This program grant can be awarded for a maximum of three years.
Infrastructure Development Program — While this program is not a grant initiative, it will assist new commercial industries with needed infrastructure like road access, sidewalks, waterlines and sewer lines. The town is willing to make site-specific infrastructure improvements up to the point where public property meets the private property when it’s in the best interest of the town. The amount of funding will depend on the amount of increased town property tax revenue generated from the business locating to Canton.
Interior Building Improvement Grant Program — This grant is to offer an incentive program to locate, upgrade or expand the interior of a building otherwise in a state of dilapidation or in danger of becoming a blight. Priority will be given to projects that address safety and health concerns and those that have a clear economic impact in the district. Grant reimbursement would be available for up to $10,000 or 50 percent of the rehabilitation costs depending on which one is less.
Façade Improvement Grant Program — Since the architectural quality and aesthetic appeal in downtown Canton is especially important to the board, this program would assist business and building owners in making improvements to the exterior face of a building in downtown. The town would work with the owner to ensure any façade upgrades are consistent with the historic feel of downtown Canton.
Architectural and/or Design Services Grant Program — This incentive is to encourage professional design projects that will capitalize on the rehabilitation of existing properties or the introduction of new buildings downtown. To be eligible, a building must be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, located in the historic district or within the town’s Business Improvement District. The grant would provide 50 percent of the design cost or up to $1,500 per project, depending on which is cheaper.
Delayed annexation — Town policy states that any commercial customer outside of the town limits wanting a new connection to the town’s water and sewer system must petition for voluntary annexation and the annexation must be final before the business can hook onto the system. However, this incentive would allow commercial businesses to delay annexation for up to five years while the industry is under construction and getting on its feet. As with the other incentives, businesses must be making a substantial capital investment and show proof of project financing.