The City of Winchester is continuing efforts to improve their downtown square with a state grant. The city has been working for the past year to replace the sidewalks and install new lighting around the square thanks to a 50/50 grant they received two years ago. The new sidewalks are likely to be completed later this summer.
City Attorney John Paul Coonrod says he’s working on a sizable grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to fix the street next. “The purpose of the grant is to repave the roadway around the town square with concrete. It will have to be dug down several feet and then refilled, which would cost approximately $1.7 million. If the City of Winchester is awarded the grant, it would be 100% state money. It was actually money that was originally appropriated as a part of the capital bill last year, and following the start of the COVID-19 situation, the governor’s office directed DCEO to move $25 million out of capital bill money into this new grant program and to make it a fast track. Meaning, it’s first come first serve for those that apply.”
Coonrod says that the city did its best to get their application in as quickly as possible to have a chance at the money for the project. “If your application reaches a certain number of scoring points, then you would automatically be awarded it, so truly is speed is what matters here especially when the pot is only $25 million. It seems like an awful lot of money, but when you start having 30 larger municipalities all apply at once, it dwindles pretty quick.”
Coonrod said the road is just one thing on a list of infrastructure projects the city is attempting to complete with as little effect on the city’s budget as possible. “The square resurfacing is kind of a natural fit. The way that we kind of how we determine on what grants we go through is we have a list of projects that the city just generally needs to do at some point in the near to intermediate future. When a grant comes along that would cut the actual cost to the city in, say half or three-quarters, then we apply for that grant; and if we get it, we do that project. That approach just helps the city keep up the infrastructure that it already has without breaking the bank. We wouldn’t be able to keep up every thing that we have if we didn’t use that style of approach.”
Coonrod said that the city passed on the Downstate Business Stabilization grant program due to the high cost of liabilities. He says they used a different approach with an existing fund at the city level. “We have a TIF District, so we have TIF money that’s a sizable amount – over $100,000. We set up a program that would grant up to $1,000 to businesses who were having trouble making mortgage or rent payments or utility payments. It’s not really a grant, but it’s something that got put in place in lieu of a grant.”
He said the city wouldn’t have been able to absorb the $200,000 liability from the stabilization grant stipulations. Coonrod, who co-owns a law practice on the square with his father and is an investment partner in the downtown grocery market, says he hopes the city’s businesses can continue to recover amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.