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A Big Grant for a Little Town

Photo by markbajekphoto1 via FlickrThere are going to be some big changes in Historic Downtown Millersburg, and soon. 

It started last spring when Tom Wilke, program director for Historic Downtown Millersburg (HDM), got wind of a grant that could literally change the face of downtown. The Comprehensive Downtown Revitalization Building Rehabilitation and Streetscape Program administered by the Ohio Department of Development’s (ODD) Office of Community Development was offering five Ohio communities the opportunity to receive matching grant money to make improvements to their downtown districts. HDM wanted Millersburg to be one of those communities.

Because HDM didn’t have the capacity to complete the extensive grant application, they contacted Shawn Starlin, executive director of the Holmes County Economic Development Council, HDM board member, secretary, and committee chair. His background in grant writing made him the perfect candidate to spearhead the application. Starlin called it the “most involved and complex grant proposal” he’d ever assembled. 

As part of the proposal, Starlin talked with each property owner who would potentially be involved in the grant, a total of 56 buildings in the revitalization district along Jackson Street from Mad Anthony to Monroe and the area of Clay Street from Jackson to Adams. 

“The attitude of the community as a whole was very upbeat,” Starlin added. “Even those who chose not to participate in the grant voiced their approval.”

In the end, after Starlin worked until just six minutes before the October deadline, 17 downtown buildings were included in the proposal. Then, all Starlin and HDM could do was wait.

On Dec. 22, 2011, Starlin received a phone call from the ODD. The grant proposal had been accepted, and the village of Millersburg would receive $289,500 in matching grants to assist more than a dozen downtown businesses with façade and code improvements as well as signage, streetlights, and infrastructure improvements in the downtown area.

“It was exciting,” said Starlin. “You toss your name in the hat, and you hope for the best. Millersburg put together a pretty stellar application that indicated the need was here and the community was behind the initiative. Those were some of the contributing factors that allowed the village to get the award.”

Starlin said that the impact of the two-year grant will be visible almost immediately following a mandatory training in February for village representatives charged with administering the grant. Starlin said there is a lot of excitement about the possibilities, and that the grant will serve as a momentum for continued improvement to the area. 

“Certainly, with all of this investment going on downtown, which will ultimately total close to $1 million, it will encourage other property owners to improve their buildings, bring in new businesses, and provide new employment. The sky’s the limit,” said Starlin. The village of Millersburg is the smallest community to ever receive the grant, which has traditionally gone to much larger municipalities, like Akron and Canton. 

Shasta Mast, Holmes County Chamber of Commerce (HCCC) executive director, said the community has Starlin to thank for making the grant happen, working tirelessly through a very difficult grant process to pull it together. The success was also largely possible through thoughtful planning of the HCCC board, who committed their budget for the upcoming move from the current HCCC building to the former Commercial & Savings Bank offices on the northwest corner of Jackson and Clay streets. 

“We talked to Shawn about our construction dollars benefiting downtown. If those dollars we were planning to spend could benefit more people and more businesses, it made perfect sense.

“I think it will help create a lot of momentum,” said Mast. “As you see good things happening, it leads to more good things.”

One of those good things will be the exciting changes to downtown’s Hotel Millersburg with its acquisition of the county’s S. Clay Street building, which will add new retail space on the street level and new rooms to the hotel on the upper level.

“Our plans call for creating access points right into the county building,” said Hotel Millersburg owner Bill Robinson. “We anticipate putting up to six hotel rooms on the second floor, very nice, upper end rooms, which will have something that the old hotel doesn’t have--views looking east to the courthouse and square.” 

Robinson said he’s confident the grant will make a significant change to downtown. The hotel alone brings a lot of people, he said. He believes the improvements will draw even more visitors to the area as well as jobs and county revenue. 

“We anticipate increased hiring and we’ll pay more taxes, since the county didn’t pay taxes on that building previously. These are all big things,” said Robinson. “We think this will have a big impact on all local governments.”

“It’s great news for the district,” said Shasta Mast. “It’s great news for the village, and it’s great news for Holmes County.”

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