Halstead wants to see its downtown flourish. In an effort to support that, city administration and the city council worked to establish a new grant program — the Downtown Revitalization and Growth of New Businesses (DRAGON) program — which officially went into effect on Jan. 1.

"We don't really offer anything that helped our business community out, and they've been really good corporate citizens," said city administrator Ethan Reimer, "so it was just kind of us trying to think outside the box of how to maybe help our downtown."

Such programs (i.e. the city's sidewalk program) exist to help the residential community, but Reimer said the city was looking for a way to give back to its businesses. The idea of the DRAGON program was floated and, ultimately, approved in September 2017 for an initial five-year term (to be reviewed for continuation at the end of that time period). Some final amendments — namely increasing funding to the program — were then made last month before it launched in 2018.

Currently, the city is providing $25,000 in funding for the program, with the minimum grant amount set at $1,000 and a maximum grant of $10,000 to be offered. That number may yet change again, with the number of grants awarded to be determined based on availability of funds budgeted and the total number of eligible applications.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must operate an existing or new business (preference given), own — or serve as lessor/lessee — property in the downtown zoned business or light industrial district, be located within the City of Halstead city limits and in the downtown area, have a location primarily for business purposes (i.e. not apartment/residential) and be current on all taxes and city utility services.

Businesses will be eligible for one grant every five years and will not be eligible for subsequent grants if not compliant with grant terms or default on an awarded grant. Grant funds through the DRAGON program can be used for facility/facade improvements (includes sidewalk/streetscape), renovation/remodel costs, acquisition of machinery and/or equipment, acquisition of inventory for business, start-up costs or employee training (with the last two requiring pre-approval from the city).

"It's kind of two-fold," Reimer said of the program's goal. "We hope to help existing businesses either expand their business or even (make) just simple improvements to the facades because some of their building maintenance issues, especially on those older downtown buildings, get rather expensive. The second goal is to try and help people who would maybe be interested in starting a business get those businesses started, get them some more financial assistance in starting a new business."

Applications are to be submitted at least 30 days prior to the start of the project. Once funding is awarded to any selected businesses, work on the project must also begin no more than 30 days from that date and is expected to be completed within 90 days of the awarding of funds (unless an extension is approved by the city).

Two weeks into the new year, Reimer said the city offices have already received two applications for funding through the DRAGON program — with a lot more interest in the form of potential applicants calling with questions, looking to get more information.

City council members and staff recognize and value the impact of the local businesses in Halstead, which was part of what spurred the investment in this program. Reimer noted he has a personal interest in the program because of the investment those local businesses owners have made in Halstead — assisting with community events like the Halloween Howl, etc. — and he is ready and wiling to help them continue impacting the community, in more ways than one.

"Obviously, the more shops and active storefronts there are, the more it offers services to our local residents who live here, but it also offers a draw to outside communities to come and visit Halstead and that has benefits in the form of people shopping or just visiting and maybe also looking at some of the other things the city has, like our parks and so on," Reimer said. "Hopefully, in one year, we can show the benefit of the program and grow it further."

For more information or to apply for the DRAGON program, visit www.halsteadks.com.