West Memphis has launched a unique Main Street program that enhances its downtown building façades blocks at a time.
City planning and development director Paul Luker said the Main Street West Memphis Façade Master Plan program allows for comprehensive rehabilitation of many downtown buildings at once. Funding comes from Community Development Block Grants, and the program requires temporary easements from property owners.
Luker said it all started when the nonprofit civic group Main Street West Memphis Inc. applied for and received a sub-grant of those CDBG funds, and secured a five-year easement on the façade of its building, allowing the city to begin spending funds on its improvement.
“The advantages of this type of façade program are that it allows for a single source of project management, a single source of design and a single source for construction,” Luker said. “This streamlines the project and removes the burden of façade enhancement from each individual property owner.”
The Main Street West Memphis Design Committee establishes a single source of design and ensures that all façade enhancements maintain the architectural heritage of the area. Having a single source of construction allows for major cost savings since the contractor buys all the necessary supplies for a single enhancement project, rather than individual owners buying individual items.
Luker said the biggest advantage to the approach adopted by West Memphis has been the ability to transform the overall appearance of the Broadway District – essentially giving it a facelift – in a short amount of time. He stressed that using façade improvements in conjunction with CDBG funds or other local, state or federal grants means no cost to the building owner or tenant.
“If the funding or grant source requires a match from the property owner, the enhancements are still realized with nominal investment on their part that is far less than if they improved their façade on their own using solely private sector funds,” Luker said. “This is a progressive use of CDBG funds and the only program like it in the state. It’s a model for not only entitlement cities, but for the CDBG program in Arkansas.”
The city has rehabbed 10 façades in the first block of West Memphis’ three-block Commercial Historic District, and the results are dramatic. Phase 2 of the program is underway on the next two blocks. Main Street Arkansas is providing technical and financial assistance.
The plan is to complete all three blocks of the historic district. Luker said the project has received strong support from local residents.
“The community has supported this program in attendance at numerous meetings developing the plan as well as vocal support to the planning and development department which competitively distributes the funds,” Luker said. “This program has saved both the community and the property owners money.”