Town Council gives Murray the OK on grant

STRASBURG — The Strasburg Town Council gave the Economic Development and Planning Department permission to start the application process for a $1 million development grant Monday night.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development is offering a community development block grant for towns across the Commonwealth to revitalize downtown business districts. The basic grant amounts to $700,000, which will cover storefront repairs and other physical improvements in downtown.

The additional $300,000 will go towards a revolving loan fund, which will grant businesses low- or no-interest loans to be paid back, then lent to other businesses.

At the council’s first January work session, it came to a consensus that Kimberly Murray, director of economic development and planning, should move forward with the application, due in March.

Murray said in order to secure the grant, the town needs to allocate $300,000 in matching funds or in-kind services.

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Murray said that figure is not finalized.

“That’s a ballpark figure and as we go through this process, we will be getting estimates on the cost of the projects, as well as which businesses will participate in the storefront repairs,” Murray said.

At the meeting, Murray said the town could split up the matching funds over two to three fiscal years in the general fund.

Council member Donald Le Vine said he supports applying for the grant and supplying the matching funds, but he wants more details on where the money will come from.

“In principle it’s a good idea to go forth, but my worry is I need a little more definition on where this $300,000 is going to come from,” Le Vine said. “If we have it broken down over three years, that’s great, but I need more definition. Is it money or is it in-kind services?”

Murray said she would find out how much the town can contribute by way of labor and in-kind services.

If the town secures the grant, it will implement it according to the Downtown Strasburg Economic Restructuring Plan, released in December 2014. The plan caused controversy last month when drawings contained in the report showed the fire station parking lot without the fire department’s food stand. A revised report was released Tuesday on the town’s website, containing a drawing with the food stand.

Members of the Strasburg Lions Club and the North Shenandoah Valley Ruritans Club, which use the stand to raise money during Strasburg’s Mayfest, attended the meeting to voice their concerns about the building’s future.

Bobbi Poling, the president of the Strasburg Lions Club, said the food stand is “the only major fundraiser” the organization holds.

“With the money that we have from that fundraiser, we use for the public for eyeglasses and hearing aids,” Poling said. “We provide the public with equipment that they might not otherwise afford.”

Citizens who spoke at the meeting voiced that they are not attached to the stand in its as is state, and are open to improvements to the structure or construction of a new facility.

Council member Robert Baker noted members of the Ruritans and Lions clubs expressed interest in helping the town with the construction of a new facility. Mayor Tim Taylor said constructing a new stand is an opportunity for the community to collaborate on a project.

“I’ve seen local organizations do an awful lot for this community,” Taylor said. “I think anytime you have ownership of an entire community on a project, that’s a fine thing.”

Le Vine said he believes the food stand’s fate is a distraction from a much bigger issue.

“The stand is secondary to the fact that we’re discussing leveraging our money into a lot more money for our downtown business district,” Le Vine said. “This is a long-term project. I don’t want to get off-track talking about the eat-stand.”

Also discussed at Monday’s work session was the wording and qualifications of the job listing for a new town manager and sending Gov. Terry McAuliffe a letter of support for amendments to the Cedar Creek bridge design on Route 11.

The town council will meet for a regular meeting Jan. 13 at 7 p.m.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com