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Willmar receives federal grant for residential and downtown rehab project

Homes are pictured Wednesday from the intersection of Fifth Street Southeast and Mary Avenue Southeast in Willmar. A grant will provide funding to rehabilitate 13 homeowner-occupied units on the east side of town in an area bounded by Pacific Avenue on the north, First Street on the west, Olena Avenue on the south and Lakeland Drive on the east. The above intersection falls in that area. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- The city of Willmar has received an $814,790 state grant to rehabilitate residential and downtown commercial and rental properties in Willmar and residential properties in Pennock.

The grant comes from the Business and Community Development Division of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Funding is funneled down from the federal Community Development Block Grant program to the state.

The Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority will administer the grant for the city. The grant will be combined with $415,875 in HRA funds from previous programs and private funds to pay for a $1,230,665 project. The HRA is handling the application process.

The project will provide enough money to rehabilitate 13 homeowner-occupied units on the east side in one of Willmar's oldest neighborhoods.

The area is generally bounded by Pacific Avenue on the north, First Street on the west, Olena Avenue on the south and Lakeland Drive on the east.

In Pennock, the project proposes to rehab seven homeowner units.

In the downtown area, the project will provide enough money to rehab 10 commercial units and rehab 10 rental units. The downtown area is bounded by Pacific Avenue on the north, Seventh Street Southwest on the west, Trott Avenue Southwest on the south and First Street on the east.

The Willmar City Council approved the grant application in January. Dorothy Gaffaney, Willmar HRA executive director, is pleased the HRA has received the grant.

"I think it's a great thing for the city of Willmar and it provides funding for our office to assist people in improving their properties where they normally couldn't afford to do so,'' she said. "It provides a lot of benefit.''

She said the Willmar Design Center assisted the HRA in surveying and determining the interest of downtown property owners in participating in the program.

"You have to determine interest ahead of time, structure the program and how it's going to work,'' said Gaffaney. "The Design Center found there was a lot of interest.''

Design Center Project Coordinator Beverly Dougherty said she was thrilled about the grant.

"We have worked with the HRA from the very beginning to secure this great grant money for downtown Willmar,'' she said.

"The Design Center did all of the legwork for the surveys that it took to provide the information for the grant writer to show interest and to show want kinds of things needed to be done on downtown buildings, and to really make an impact because this is a lot of money that's going to be spent downtown.''

Preliminary interest on the part of downtown building owners was greater than the money that's been approved. Although the grant is limited to 10 commercial units, the Design Center had pre-applications from 40 owners.

"Everyone who shows interest probably won't fill out an application. But our intention is to begin with this one and then apply again and keep applying until we have rehabilitated downtown Willmar,'' she said.

Dougherty said the grant writer that worked with the Design Center has worked with a Minnesota city that's received its fifth DEED grant.

"They've redone their whole downtown with this great application package,'' said Dougherty. "It will take us a couple of years, but we're started.''

More information on the project and application process is available by calling the HRA at 320-235-8637.