Project hopefuls line up for CDBG funds

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Let the competition begin.

For the first time since 2007, when Bridgton began receiving a yearly set-aside of around $220,000 in state Community Development Block Grant funds, there’s money left over this year for smaller community-based projects.

At least eight local non-profits and other concerns have said they’d like a piece of that grant pie, which will be around $110, 000. So the town’s office of Economic and Community Development is now in the process of creating a CDBG Review Committee of around five members, whose job will be to score the local applications and make awards.

Current prospective applicants who’ve expressed an interest with EDC Director Alan Manoian are the following:

• The Bridgton Community Center, seeking around $50,000 to expand their kitchen and pantry space for community meals and programs;

• The Bridgton Historical Society, seeking funds for the historic firehouse on Gibbs Avenue that serves as their museum, as well as sidewalk improvements;

• The Rufus Porter Museum, seeking at least $25,000 to restore the façade of the historic Webb-Gallinari House on Main Street and relocate to that property the current museum building on North High Street;

• Community Dental, Inc., seeking at least $20,000 to open a nonprofit dental clinic next to Bridgton Hospital;

• Elihu Upham, seeking funds to help equip and house a Bridgton-based community radio station;

• Joanne Diller, seeking funds to restore community murals created by Nelle Ely on the sides of the former Diller Pharmacy, now run as Colors Hair Salon on Main Street;

• The Bridgton Economic Development Corporation, seeking 25% matching funds so they can apply for CDBG grant funding of around $500,000 to clean up the former Bridgton Memorial School.

That’s an ambitious list of worthy projects, said Manoian, and decisions won’t be easy for the CDBG Review Committee, as yet unnamed. The Board of Selectmen will be asked to make the appointments at their meeting next Tuesday, Feb. 22. The panel will begin their work in early March, just before the March 4 deadline for applications to be submitted to the town.

The committee will use a scoring criteria employed by the Cumberland County’s CDBG program, and will announce the grant winners on March 28. Manoian will act as CDBG administrator for all of the projects, including those that have previously received funding commitments from the town and thus do not have to compete.

Previously committed projects are the William Perry House, or old Bridgton Hospital, which is being redeveloped for mixed use by new owner Steve Stevens. Manoian said the town has committed $25,000 toward façade restoration of the historic building.

“That project is key — it will be the catalyst for the economic rebirth of that part of downtown,” he said. Across the street, another $10,000 in CDBG funds have already been committed for façade restoration of the Henry Moses building, being redeveloped by Rick and Julie Welchel.

Another $5,000 will go toward restoring railings where Stevens Brook crosses Main Street, and Manoian estimates it will take another $60,000 or so to repair weak points in the downtown sewer lines. An engineering report is expected within the next three weeks on that multi-year project, which used up two years’ worth of CDBG funding and included replacement of both the Wayside and Harmon field sewer beds.

This year Bridgton is getting a total CDBG allocation of around $235,000, of which $45,000 is used to fund Bridgton’s Office of Economic and Community Development. Funds in the first year were used to create downtown parking lots on Park Street and Depot Street, to support redevelopment of the Magic Lantern Theater and the expansion of Reny’s department store.

“That shows the value of a public-private partnership” in the CDBG program, Manoian said. Infrastructure has to come first.

Each applicant must demonstrate that their project meets any one of the three national objectives cited by the federal office of Housing and Urban Development, the source of CDBG funds. Those objectives are 1) Benefit to low and moderate income persons; 2) Prevention and elimination of slum and blight conditions; or 3) Meeting community development needs having a particular urgency.

The projects also should be: part of a long-range community strategy; improve deteriorated residential and business districts and local economic conditions; provide the conditions and incentives for further public and private investments; foster partnerships between groups of municipalities, state and federal entities, multi-jurisdictional organizations and the private sector to address common community and economic development problems; and minimize development sprawl consistent with the State of Maine Growth Management Act and support the revitalization of downtown areas.

Under the county guidelines that the Bridgton committee will generally follow, the applicants get 35 points for describing the problem and how they would address it, another 30 points for outlining their strategy, and 30 more points for describing their readiness to proceed. Points will also be given for describing how the community will benefit from the project.

Manoian calls the CDBG program “one of the great economic programs of our nation,” and said Bridgton is fortunate in being able to make funding decisions and administer those funds on the local level. He credits former BECD Director Charles Rutledge with “striking the best possible deal for Bridgton” in 2007, when Cumberland County became the first county in New England to participate directly in the CDBG program.

Because Bridgton’s poverty rate was and is, per capita, the highest of all the towns in Cumberland County, Rutledge was able to negotiate to have Bridgton receive an annual set-aside of funds in return for its participation in the consortium. The only other town to get such a set-aside is South Portland.

Rutledge was followed by BECD Director Micah Niemy, who oversaw the Depot Street parking project, and Manoian took over the job in October of 2008. Now that infrastructure is in place, he said, “This is the year of the community-based project.”

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