Business

Downtown area Iowa City businesses can apply for Co-sign, Building Change efforts

Programs offer signage, facade improvement opportunities

Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette

The Englert Theatre is seen on Washington Street in Iowa City in October. The Iowa City Downtown District and the City of Iowa City are offering programs to help businesses create new signage and finance facade improvements.
Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette The Englert Theatre is seen on Washington Street in Iowa City in October. The Iowa City Downtown District and the City of Iowa City are offering programs to help businesses create new signage and finance facade improvements.
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IOWA CITY — Some downtown businesses will get new signage this year, thanks to the expansion of a 2017 Iowa City Downtown District project.

Co-sign, a grant program to help businesses design and improve their storefront signage in downtown Iowa City, will be expanded this year to also offer a Co-sign+ option. The new plus offering will give businesses the option of receiving a $1,000 matching grant for permanent facade improvements as well.

“The new Co-sign+ will be a broadened scope of the Co-sign program that will encourage creative storefront enhancements outside of signage,” according to a release from the district. Those improvements could be any permanent improvements such as lighting, tiled entryways or “substantial” painting.

Betsy Potter, director of operations for the district, said Co-sign+ will allow for “very creative” storefront improvements that the district will work one-on-one with the businesses to achieve.

If business owners just want to apply for just the original program, they’ll be eligible for a 50/50 matching grant of up to $3,000. This is a 50 percent jump from the 2017 offering.

The district, city of Iowa City and MidWestOne are the financial backers for the project. They’re hoping to get seven businesses to participate in Co-sign this year.

The project was launched on a national basis in 2017 by the National Sign Museum. Iowa City was part of the first round of places to benefit from the program, helping 12 downtown businesses create and install pedestrian-friendly blade signs.

The district will coordinate the pairings of small business owners with local artists and designers and sign fabricators, all in an effort to help spark economic activity in the area.

Businesses that received new signage firing the last round included Prairie Lights Books, Beadology, Mama’s Deli and Molly’s Cupcakes, among others.

Each of the projects will be judged based on the Iowa City Downtown District Storefront and Signage Guidelines document, but businesses can submit as many designs as they would like.

Applications for the projected opened up Thursday, and the deadline to apply is March 15. Businesses will have to install the winning signs by Aug. 1. A fall round of applications will open on July 1.

The project was launched with a workshop for business owners Thursday, which was coupled with a presentation from city of Iowa City staff on the Building Change program.

Building Change is another financial assistance program for downtown and the Northside Marketplace to help “viability, sustainability, increased tax base and improved aesthetics,” through grants and loans, according to a media release from the city.

Similar to Co-sign+, it will help with facade and entryway improvements. It also includes renovations of underutilized spaces, especially upper levels.

The grant portion will pay 50 percent of a $50,000 project. The loan option provides 2 percent interest loans for five-year terms for up to 50 percent of project costs for work costing a minimum of $10,000.

Applications for Building Change are open through Feb. 15.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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