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Editor's Note: This story is part of a month-long series that highlights 31 ideas included in the "Mansfield Rising" plan. The 67-page document was created by 15 local leaders after attending the South by Southwest Conference last March in Austin, Texas.

Idea 5: To recapitalize the downtown Mansfield facade improvement grant

MANSFIELD -- To improve the look of downtown businesses, the 'Mansfield Rising' plan has pitched recapitalizing downtown Mansfield's facade improvement grant fund.

The facade improvement grant fund formerly provided grants to buildings and business owners for up to $2,500 to make improvements. These funds were administered by a committee consisting of historic preservationists, architects, designers and community members, who provided guidance and resources for facade improvements

While the grants were relatively small, the incentive for matching dollars expanded the number of projects. The resources that provided in conjunction with the grant made for quality restorations and renovations consistent with the community's standard. The City of Mansfield's Historic Preservation Commission assisted property owners in the process of renovation within the Central Park Historic District. 

Originally the program was funded by the Richland County Commissioners and other fundraising events. It supported 30 projects with about $65,000 in matching grant funds and leveraged almost $750,000 worth of building restoration downtown.

Even though the program hasn't been funded since 2015, the results are evident throughout downtown Mansfield. The funds were used by Richland Bank, Uncle John's, Athens, Squirrel's Den and others for signage, paint, awnings, repair to windows and doors and masonry work.

To improve the look of downtown businesses, the plan also suggests looking into initiatives such as a retail conversion incentive. This particular item is offered by Longmont, Colorado, to encourage building owners to convert first-floor space into retail establishments.

Additionally, the plan notes that Erie, Pennsylvania, Hamilton, Ohio and a community in Northern Kentucky have completed work in their downtown with the creation of private investment funds directed through nonprofits. 

"This would have broader real-estate market implications and should be studied to determine if this approach is what is needed at this point in Mansfield," the plan states.

Further, a focus on recruiting businesses that would be utilized by downtown residents could be considered to occupy storefronts as they become available. Suggested amenities include grocery stores, walk-in clinics and dry cleaners.

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