WARNER ROBINS -- An empty pint bottle of vodka lay on a sidewalk in front of a long-disused storefront Monday in an older part of town, while a peek through the windows showed floor tiles discolored and peeling after decades of neglect.
The door showed Chamber of Commerce stickers no newer than the year 2000.
Tony Castro, owner of the nearby Tony’s Pawn Shop, hopes to buy the storefront and renovate the space into a musicians’ practice and performance venue, bringing more life to the Northgate Plaza on North Davis Drive.
He welcomed word of a grant and loan program for businesses performing facade upgrades, which was approved Monday by the Warner Robins Redevelopment Authority.
“Twenty-five years, I’ve been turning the key here,” Castro said. “I’m getting to the point here where I’m sick of it.”
He figures it would cost $100,000 just to fix the roofs and air conditioners on the five storefronts he plans to buy. But he said support from the city would help and encourage others to invest.
The proposal for revolving loans and forgivable grants to improve facades and building sides visible from the road was approved unanimously by the authority on Monday. It still must go to City Council for approval.
Gary Lee, the authority’s director, proposed grants of $2,500 and five-year loans up to $20,000 with a 1-percent interest rate.
As loans are paid back, the returned money would be lent to other businesses. Lee wants to fund $100,000 worth of work at a time.
“We just wanted to put together some incentives, show we’re in there with them for revitalizing” the city, Lee told The Telegraph.
Sherri Windham, Warner Robins’ director of community development, plans to present a proposal at the March 16 City Council meeting for forgivable grants of $2,000 to $20,000 from Community Development Block Grant program and loans of $2,000 to $20,000 in Redevelopment Authority money. She said businesses want the city’s support.
“I have like four or five that are already interested,” she said.
Windham said similar programs in places like Savannah and Waynesboro, Virginia, have worked.
The grants and loans would be available to businesses on major streets, not in leased spaces, within the Redevelopment Agency’s targeted area. That’s centered on Commercial Circle, including significant parts of Watson Boulevard and Davis Drive.
Outside Tony’s Pawn Shop, missing ceiling tiles above an outdoor walkway show chicken wire that’s behind one part of the facade. The chicken wire can be important. One neighboring entrepreneur moved out after the second time an animal fell from the ceiling into his shop.
Castro said he doesn’t want a handout but wants to improve the shopping center, where teens used to take their dates to get a nice Italian dinner and go to the Plaza Theatre.
But those days are past, and now most of the storefronts are dilapidated and vacant. Castro thinks a stucco finish might help spruce things up. “We’ve been begging down here for years for help,” he said.