|April 23, 2014 - The employees at Gray Hodges, 103 Jessamine St., are happy to talk about the new quarter-million-dollar façades on their four buildings.
From 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, the 65-year-old supplier of cabinetry and kitchen and bath fixtures will be co-hosting an old-fashioned street party and cookout, with live bluegrass music, to celebrate. The ribbon-cutting program is scheduled at noon.
Joining Gray Hodges will be Bittle & Sons, 211 Jessamine St., a construction company that used $50,000 through the City of Knoxville's Commercial Façade Program (and contributed about twice that amount of its own money) to upgrade its business exterior.
The façade grant program has been used successfully to stimulate redevelopment in such places as the Downtown North area, the Magnolia Avenue Warehouse District, along Gay Street, along Broadway, on Martin Mill Pike and elsewhere.
"This is public money that's wisely invested, with the owners often contributing the much greater share," said Becky Wade, the City's Director of Community Development.
A cost-benefit analysis shows that the City's Commercial Façade Program, from 2005 through 2012, reaped substantial benefits:
During that span, more than $3.3 million was distributed to qualifying businesses and developers, who in turn put about $10.3 million of their own money into their properties.
The resulting renovation work retained 260 jobs and created 228 new jobs, plus the projects supported 500 construction jobs.
The taxes levied after the construction doubled, while the appraised value of the property increased from about $7.2 million to $19.3 million.
"So the investment allows owners to do more with their property," Wade said. "It also leverages jobs being created, and property values go up, which increases revenue to the city.
"There also are the intangibles: New facades bring people into areas being redeveloped, and that increases safety. Pretty soon, there's a domino effect, as more properties are getting cleaned up and brought back into productive use."
The Commercial Façade Program is being highlighted as part of National Community Development Week, April 21-27, and Friday's Jessamine Street cookout is part of a series of events showcasing projects of the City's Department of Community Development and its nonprofit partners across Knoxville.
Charlie Morgan, president of Gray Hodges, says his company invested more than $100,000 into the renovation on its four buildings. The City contributed about $157,000. The project - which calls for an 80-20 split between the City and the business – illustrates how companies typically do a more extensive renovation, well beyond the required 20 percent contribution.
The Gray Hodges makeover involved replacing windows and redoing the fronts on buildings that make up a city block.
Morgan is proud of the fact that his company is celebrating its 65th anniversary from the same site where it was founded in 1949.
"It's a 100 percent change in this area," Morgan says. "The whole area looks entirely different. This area really is the best gateway to get into the Old City."