St. Vincent de Paul, South Calhoun neighbors all win with Fort Wayne commercial facade grants
If the weather cooperates, in a few weeks the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store’s statue of Mary will be back at the front and be looking over South Calhoun Street.
The thrift store, 1600 S. Calhoun St., has been undergoing a $200,000 renovation since fall, thanks in part to a city of Fort Wayne commercial facade grant. The project represents another investment in that section of Calhoun leading to downtown.
The store was one of nine businesses that the city announced last spring would receive $20,000 or $40,000 facade grants. Each November, Fort Wayne businesses submit applications for the grants, distributed annually since 2009.
Since Mayor Tom Henry created the facade grants program, at least 92 companies have completed renovations or are in the process of work after receiving grants, leading to at least $5 million in investment, said Mary Tyndall, a city spokeswoman.
Businesses that qualify must commit to contributing an amount at least double of their grant, which is $20,000 for single-tenant and $40,000 for multi-tenant buildings.
The exterior changes can have a domino effect, said Lindsey Maksim, community grant administrator.
That’s what happened when Blue Jacket, 2826 S. Calhoun St., used its 2015 facade grant.
Headwaters Counseling saw the effect and applied, receiving a grant, Maksim said.
“They did not want to be outshined by their neighbors,” she said. “…It just needed a pick-me-up. That makes a big difference.”
The program tries to spread out the grants each year so no one neighborhood benefits. A design team looks at applicants’ plans and rates them on a variety of things, including how much the owners are investing and the impact on the neighborhood.
The city has a variety of employees who can help owners with landscape architecture and design. The city puts $200,000 each year into the budget from County Economic Development Income Tax for the grants, with some money carried over from the previous year. Although the grants are awarded, not all are used. Work hasn’t been done on the former Clyde Theatre in Quimby Village, which received $40,000 for renovations. The money was returned and it has applied again for this year’s grants, Maksim said.
The grants pay for things attached to the front of a building. Simple changes such as paint, bright-colored awnings and new siding can pack a powerful visual punch.
THRIFT STORE CHANGES ADD DIGNITY
The updates for St. Vincent de Paul are expected to be completed by the end of February, weather permitting, said store manager Tim Fagan.
“We got the dust and the mess, but we’re still open,” he said.
The niche for the Mary statue will likely be completed in March with a cherry wood background made by St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Carpenter’s Sons, a handyman group. After that Fagan is hoping for a building blessing from Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
The part Fagan is most proud of is the changes to the entryway that will make it easier for people in wheelchairs or parents with baby strollers to get into the store, which has 10 employees, four of whom work full time. It will allow shoppers to come in with dignity, said Fagan, a Homestead High School graduate with 27 years in retail. February marks his third year as store manager.
The store is using other donations and smaller grants for the renovation. Fagan hopes to reapply for a facade grant so the rest of the sidewall can be finished. For now the old exterior on the furniture side will remain as is.
The store has been in its current location since the 1960s. The exterior had deteriorated and now has pre-fab metal panels in the blue and white colors of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Windows added to the second story on the Calhoun side will allow natural light to come into a reading area.
The store receives donations and also buys new items, such as toothbrushes, toilet paper and shampoo, that it sells for low prices. Pants are sold for $3 and tops for $2.50.
“‘Help us help others is our slogan,” Fagan said.
That help includes supporting a jail ministry with books and eyeglasses, transporting coats for the annual Coats for Kids Sake program, giving to churches and nonprofits items they need for their efforts, serving as a place for local Catholic and Lutheran schools and others to volunteer for service hours, and providing immediate needs to people who come off the street and are desperate for clothing and personal items.
Staff recently helped a homeless man who had arrived on a Citilink bus wearing only a towel that someone had given to him after he had soiled himself in his clothes.
HUGE FACADE TRANSFORMATION
Zeigler’s Window Coverings is another recipient of the 2017 grants.
“When a building is built out of four turn-of-the-century houses … it had issues,” said owner Todd Zeigler.
The roof had leaked for 70 years, said Zeigler, the third generation of the family and the last Zeigler in the business started by his grandfather and great-uncle.
“There was a decision that was going to have to be made,” said Zeigler, who had found raccoons, possums and a family of cats had gotten inside the business in 2016. While he believes the Zeigler family has a good reputation in the city, its place of business didn’t live up to it.
Then in walked Maksim to ask if he’d ever considered applying for a facade grant.
“The facade grant would not begin to touch what was needed to fix this,” said Zeigler, who believes he spent at least three times the amount of money the business received through the grant.
However, he worked with Maksim on a plan to knock down the building in front and then use the grant on the facade of the building behind it.
“She thought I was absolutely insane,” he said.
Maksim gave him a list of contractors that were eager to help.
And the business is not missing the space. When his grandfather and great-uncle moved to the current location, they added other window treatments as well as furniture to the drapery business, leading to them buying the surrounding properties. However, as ready-made furniture became more available and International Harvester’s 1983 departure from the city hurt the local economy, his parents and grandparents decided to return to the business’ origins. The space wasn’t needed anymore.
“We ended up with the store we need,” Zeigler said. “I’m just really proud that we got to put forward the look that comes with my family name.”