Greenwood’s GROW program grants some wishes
By Greg Seiter // Photos by Scott Roberson
Greenwood’s Granting Revitalization and Opportunity for the Workplace program, more commonly known as GROW, has continued to steadily grow in its efforts to improve underdeveloped and underused areas in the city since being launched in 2016. While utilizing a yearly renewable $500,000 matching grant fund through the Greenwood Redevelopment Commission, the program has steadily impacted the Greenwood community by aiding in the exterior restoration, upgrading and enhancement projects of local business applicants.
Initially proposed with a specific goal of improving the aesthetic appeal of businesses along some of the city’s most-traveled corridors, GROW-eligible projects continue to include facades, signage, art installation, landscaping, green infrastructure, lighting and decorative fencing, to name a few.
“Community aesthetics play a fundamental role in attracting and retaining both residents and businesses,” says Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers. “We’re investing in making public spaces more appealing, and this initiative creates an incentive for local businesses to follow suit.”
But the program addresses more than just physical eye appeal. “We’re encouraging additional private investment in these areas, helping to preserve and raise property values as well,” Myers says.
Here we GROW
The GROW program’s first project was a 2016 office complex initiative at 622 N. Madison Ave., owned by Kevin Storm and his wife, Marie, of Storm Chiropractic Clinic.
“We took ownership of the building maybe about a year before we knew about the GROW program,” says Marie Storm, a health coach at the clinic. “For improvements, we planned to focus on immediate needs and eventually get to aesthetic things as we could afford them. But the GROW program made it all happen a lot sooner.”
The Storms made $50,000 worth of improvements using a $25,000 private investment and $25,000 in matching grant funds. Specific enhancements included new signage, windows, landscaping, lighting and fencing.
“We were very pleased with the results. We love working, living and playing in Greenwood, and we’re so pleased that the city values its small businesses and understands the significant positive impact they provide to our community,” she says.
Another early GROW-assisted project involved the exterior renovation of three buildings located on two Main Street parcels. For complete facade replacement and the construction of a patio, the city provided much-needed matching funds.
With an apparent increase in the conversion of former residences into small businesses throughout Johnson County, fund requests targeted specifically toward old home face-lifts have been on the rise. In fact, Dr. Rick Ruegg, a psychologist who runs a private counseling practice out of a former home at 399 W. Main St., received a grant for work that included window, siding, front step and garage door replacement along with repairs to the structure’s brick and mortar.
Of course, a few GROW program modifications have occurred since its inception. For example, in 2018, the redevelopment commission selected the Greenwood Community Development Corp. to review applications and administer project grants. GCDC promotes the welfare of Greenwood residents by enhancing and improving the social, cultural and economic conditions in and around the city. Now projects eligible for grant funding have specific geographic requirements. Additionally, only improvements to non-residential properties are eligible for incentives.
The application process itself is relatively simple. In addition to submitting a short narrative that outlines the nature and impact of the proposed project, detailed cost estimates must be turned in along with various legal documents including confirmation that mortgage, property insurance, property tax payments, sanitation and stormwater fees are all current and in good standing. Additionally, applicants must submit photographs of the existing project site’s condition, sketches or conceptual drawings of improvements that will be funded by the program and evidence demonstrating an ability to privately fund the applicant’s share of the overall project cost.
From a financial perspective, applicants may receive a one-for-one matching grant totaling no less than $10,000 and no more than $50,000 in public investment (total project investment must be between $20,000 and $100,000). Additionally, applicants may only receive one grant, per parcel, per year. Grant-awarded projects must also be completed within 12 months of an executed project agreement.
“For obvious reasons, it can’t be an ongoing project,” Storm says. “You have to accomplish everything you say you’re going to.”
Growth is the goal
Business expansion plans helped Mike Wood, founder and manager of Bailey & Wood Financial Group, which is based in Whiteland, discover GROW. In fact, with pre-existing plans to open an office in Greenwood, Wood almost accidentally stumbled onto the program.
“I’d heard of GROW, but I really didn’t know much about it,” he says. “We were coming to Greenwood regardless, but when I found out how much the program could help us with exterior improvements, I was really excited.”
Thanks to grant money, Wood has been able to address various external needs at his new office at 612 N. Madison Ave., including siding and gutter replacement as well as window-related work.
“They don’t just hand you a blank check. Every dollar goes into making the property look better,” he says. “And thanks to the grant, with what I’ve been able to save on the outside, I’m now able to spice up more on the inside.”
In working with Greenwood officials, Wood has been particularly impressed with the level of involvement city representatives have shown throughout his renovation project.
“It feels like the city is almost a partner in what I’m doing,” he says. “Everybody I’ve worked with from the mayor on down has been unbelievable. They’re very detail-oriented. They’ve walked us through this entire project. We’ve definitely felt wanted, but it has also felt like everyone involved wants our business to succeed.”
Wood has nothing but praise for GROW. “I’m old school. I grew up in Whiteland, and I really like to see people who are innovative,” he says. “I think this program is brilliant. It’s a low-cost way to attract business, and the city is going to get its money back ten-fold.”
Greenwood redevelopment commission member Bryan Harris says GROW is living up to expectations. “Small businesses are the driving force behind Greenwood’s economy, and the GROW Greenwood initiative is an effective mechanism to facilitate growth while also providing aesthetic benefits to the community as a whole,” he says. “The initiative aligns perfectly with one of the Greenwood Redevelopment Commission’s primary objectives, which is growing and attracting businesses to the city. GROW has proven to be an extremely effective public-private partnership model, and we believe it will continue to generate a positive impact for Greenwood.”