The city is again budgeting more than $600,000 in grants to improve storefront properties in struggling neighborhood business districts.

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan launched the Great Streets Initiative last spring. The program, administered by the Office of Integrated Development, provides small business loans of up to $10,000 and matching façade grants, funded with a federal Community Development Block Grant, to spruce up businesses that line the city's local main streets.

“In the same way that we are investing in a vibrant, walkable Main Street to reinvigorate Akron’s downtown neighborhood, we are equally committed to investing in our ‘mini-downtowns’ so business districts can grow and thrive in neighborhoods across the city,” Horrigan said Monday in a statement announcing a second round of funding.

The original Great Streets program covered 10 neighborhood business districts. The Merriman Valley was added this year. A map of all the business districts and details on financial assistance can be found at www.greatstreetsakron.com/.

“In 2018, the city awarded $651,000 in façade grants to 35 property owners for exterior renovations,” said James Hardy, who runs the Office of Integrated Development. “We also conducted a lighting study in partnership with GE and Ohio Edison, and worked with the Kenmore Neighborhood Association to repave and restripe Kenmore Boulevard to make it safer and more pedestrian and cycle friendly.”

Neighborhood business districts that split the $651,000 in façade grants last year were located in Kenmore (where 13 applicants were approved), Maple Valley (12), Aster (4), Middlebury (3), West Hill (2) and East Copley (1). Businesses in Wallhaven and Ellet did not qualify because household earnings in the surrounding neighborhoods are deemed too high by federal standards. There were no façade grants in the business districts along Canton Road or in Goodyear Heights near Reservoir Park. And Merriman Valley, which is eligible for the grants this year, was not on the Great Streets list last year.

Applications for façade grants will be accepted through June 3. Forms, and applications for microloans of $1,000 to $10,000, can found at https://akronohio.submittable.com/submit.

The grants can be used for facade renovation, brick and masonry cleaning, landscaping, architectural fees, new doors and windows and signage improvements. Building additions “generally” do not qualify, but may be funded through the microloan program.

Along with the direct support for private business and property owners, the city has set aside $300,000 for street improvements in the 11 Great Streets areas this year. An assessment of parking needs will be conducted along Copley Road. And Better Block, an urban design nonprofit organization, is partnering with Maple Valley businesses and community leaders to test pilot pop-up businesses and other economic opportunities on May 24 and 25.

The city is also planning to roll out an effort later this year to connect businesses that are expanding with owners of vacant storefronts.