Matt Harpole, Stephenville Economic Development Authority (SEDA) board president, welcomes new board member Gerald Cook. A Tarleton alumnus and former president at the Madisonville/Hopkins County (Kentucky) Economic Development Corporation, Cook also served as executive director at the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce for nine years, 1972-1981. At SEDA’s Tuesday meeting, Cook was appointed to serve as the authority’s Vice President. || Flash photo by AMANDA KIMBLE

Established business owners in the city of Stephenville who want to give their storefronts a facelift could do so with some financial assistance.

At its Thursday meeting, Stephenville Economic Development Authority (SEDA) board of directors gave a final seal of approval to the Façade and Infrastructure Improvement Program aimed at upgrading the curb appeal of aging commercial, retail and office structures.

The issue was tabled following board discussion in September, and SEDA Executive Director John Hubbard suggested that the board take immediate action to avoid further delays in implementing the program.

At previous meetings, Hubbard said the program is a good example of how economic development dollars can benefit both established businesses while making a positive impression on others the organization is working to attract to the city.

Qualified businesses can apply to receive up to $5,000 in matching grant funds. To be considered, applicants must operate existing businesses located within the corporate city limits.

Hubbard said SEDA’s operating budget for the current fiscal year includes $50,000 for approved façade improvements, and explained that only projects with a total cost of $10,000 or more would be considered for the full $5,000 in funding. 

Funding for the program – and all SEDA related expenditures – are derived from a portion of SEDA’s Type B sales tax funds.

Eligible improvements include, but are not limited to, complete exterior renovations; window and/or door replacement; cleaning, scraping, priming and/or painting of the storefront; application of exterior treatments such as brick, siding or stone; signage; and certain exterior lighting fixtures. Projects can also include installation or replacement of canopies or awnings, gutters or down spouts and visible roof repair when made in conjunction with other improvements.

Hubbard said minor updates had been made to the program rules and guidelines since the board discussed the program last year, including additions that encouraged applicants to give local vendors priority on improvement products and services. Information explaining that SEDA funds cannot be used to supplement projects that had already been claimed against the property or business owners’ insurance had also been added.

Other items not eligible for funding include new construction, interior renovations, fencing, burglar bars and projects placed under contract prior to application for SEDA assistance. Program details also state that in-kind services cannot be considered part of the total budget.

Applications for funding assistance can be obtained at the SEDA office, located at 198 S. Belknap Street, Suite 201. Applications must be accompanied by a project budget, three estimates for repairs, photos of the project area, commitment to maintenance and letter of property owner approval if the facility is being leased.

All projects must be approved by the authority’s board of directors, conform to all permitting requirements and complete the work described to SEDA prior to being reimbursed for the approved amount.

In other items of business, the SEDA board approved a $25,000 funding request from Equibrand, the rope manufacturing facility relocating from Hood County to just outside Stephenville City limits, within the municipality’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Equibrand asked for assist with the installation of a water storage tank at the new $4 million facility located behind the United State Team Roping Championships headquarters on County Road 437.

Joe Brown, Erath County commissioner, said the Equibrand facility is located about one mile from city water lines and the nearest fire hydrant.

Prior to board approval, Hubbard explained how he saw the issue as investment and not an expense.

“The investment of $25,000 will have a payback of fewer than four years,” he said. “Additionally, the net present value of the investment over a 10-year period is $32,000.”

Providing additional benefits, board member Wendell Hollingsworth said Equibrand officials previously said they were open to being annexed into the city and also said the company is known for being a good corporate citizen.

July Danley, president and CEO of the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, said return on the investment would come much more quickly than the proposed four years through indirect payback. Danley cited money spent by employees at other businesses, potential donations and corporate giving to area organizations and causes and the fiscal impact of visitors to the plant who will likely shop at other local businesses.

Following SEDA’s approval, a recommendation will be sent to Stephenville City Council, who will be asked to give final approval to the $25,000 request at their February meeting.

Meanwhile, following a discussion on other possible dates, SEDA directors decided to make Tuesday, March 21 “Stephenville Day” at the state capitol. That same date had already been selected as Tarleton Day by university officials.

Asking for the board to approve up $5,000 in marketing funds to cover related expenses, Hubbard said the one-day trip to Austin to meet with elected officials and leaders of various agencies, such as the transportation department and water development board, was a wise investment.

While other dates were discussed for city and SEDA officials to consider, Danley suggested partnering with Tarleton, which Mayor Kenny Weldon said would be a good way to address shared concerns, such as travel and traffic issues along Washington Street near the university.

Matt Harpole, board president, suggested that city department heads – such those over city administration, public works and parks – accompany city and SEDA officials so they can speak directly with leaders in Austin who could provide information to their specific needs and concerns.

Shelby Slawson agreed that it would be beneficial for community leaders unite and discuss common goals and concerns.  

For more information on the Façade and Infrastructure Improvement Program and other SEDA related business, call Hubbard at 254-459-4921.

The authority’s website is expected to be fully functional by the end of January.