The Treehouse Real Estate office at 129 S. Main St. is one of 10 buildings that has signed up to access grant funds and get renovated as part of Kendallville's $2 million PreservINg Main Street program. Applications from building owners to be included will be taken until Jan. 3, 2022. Staff photo by Steve Garbacz
The Treehouse Real Estate office at 129 S. Main St. is one of 10 buildings that has signed up to access grant funds and get renovated as part of Kendallville's $2 million PreservINg Main Street program. Applications from building owners to be included will be taken until Jan. 3, 2022. Staff photo by Steve Garbacz
KENDALLVILLE — Ahead of a looming Jan. 3 deadline for downtown Kendallville owners to sign up to take part in the city's $2 million PreservINg Main Street facade grant, 10 buildings owners have committed with a couple more likely to get in before the application window closes.

A dozen buildings would represent a little shy of a fifth of the structures in downtown and, if numbers stay around that level, would allow each building to easily take on $100,000 more in renovations and still be comfortably inside the available money.

Kendallville has selected a Fort Wayne-based architecture firm that will help those buildings owners draw up concepts and engineer the restoration and renovation work to their buildings, with the entire package planned to be put up for bid in summer 2022.

The city set a Jan. 3 deadline for building owners to get their applications in and as of Tuesday afternoon, Kristen Johnson, president of the downtown organization Experience the Heart of Kendallville and soon to be the city's full-time Main Street manager starting in January, said 10 buildings owners have committed thus far.

"We have received 10 applications so far, and I'm expecting at least two more before the deadline on Jan. 3," Johnson said.

Building owners can get 85% of the cost of their renovations covered through the $2 million PreservINg Main Street grant, a new pilot program from the state with a focus on historic preservation and downtown revitalization in historic communities, if they put up a 15% match.

That's much more generous than the city's facade grant program run by the Kendallville Redevelopment Commission, which offers 50/50 grants with a maximum value of $15,000.

Kendallville was one of 25 applicants seeking that grant, then was part of five finalists before being selected as one of two winners of a $2 million grant.

With $2 million to work with and a dozen buildings to be fixed, the city could fund some significantly expensive makeovers of downtown buildings, although it's perhaps unlikely that every project would run more than $150,000 in total cost.

Johnson said that the city could potentially consider doing a second round of grants for building owners who didn't jump at the first opportunity if money is left over, although it's not clear whether that would be allowed by the state since the city is on a two-year time line to complete the project.

If it does work out, however, a second cycle could attract more takers if the first round of facade fixups goes well.

"I think once building owners see the transformations taking place, they will lose any hesitation they may have," Johnson said.

The city has been interviewing architecture firms to bring on as technical advisor for the project, since the facade work will need to be formally designed and put out for competitive public bids as a requirement of the grant.

Johnson said the city has recently selected MartinRiley out of Fort Wayne.

That firm has a wide-range of services, but historic preservation projects are in its scope of capabilities and would be particiularly relevant to Kendallville's project.

MartinRiley's Fort Wayne office is actually located in the historic restored Baker Street Train Station in the city and itself is an example of the type of restoration and new use projects the firm has been involved with.

"Our state-certified historic architecture staff has designed many award winning projects involving historic renovation and adaptive reuse. We can transform a century-old school into senior housing, or an abandoned hospital into a multi-functional office, while allowing them to give tribute to the history of the original space. It is our belief that historic structures and building techniques can coexist with contemporary uses," MartinRiley's website states about its preservation work.

Previously city officials estimated engineering work could cost up to $200,000, 10%, out of the total grant funds. Details on the cost and scope of services on MartinRiley's contract haven't been made public at yet.
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