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Rendering of proposed mural at Blue Moon Camera in St. Johns. The mural project is one of the 2021 awardees for Storefront Improvement Grants administered by St. Johns Center for Opportunity | Credit: Screenshot of Blue Moon fundraising video with additional sky replacement in Photoshop.

ST. JOHNS — The St. Johns Center for Opportunity is accepting applications for its storefront improvement program.

The group will award up to $25,000 to businesses and commercial property owners in St. Johns’ downtown Urban Renewal Area. Stephanie Blair, executive director at SJCO, said her team estimates there are about 150 eligible businesses within the boundaries.

The program’s goal is to help business and property owners — through these improvement projects — to create a place welcoming of shoppers. 

The program, which has awarded more than $158,000 since 2014, has gone toward such projects as the new electronic marquee signs on either side of the business district, as well as new signs, bike racks, windows, awnings, benches, lighting, fencing and more. 

Outreach to businesses hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions, as well as those that have been vandalized with broken windows and doors. 

The grant program is part of the Neighborhood Prosperity Network initiative designed to support social equity-based community economic development at the neighborhood level.

The grant funds comes from tax increment financing within the Interstate Urban Renewal Area.   Typically, a TIF is a set aside of future property tax revenue from a defined area or district toward an economic development project or public improvement project in the community.

The St. Johns Center for Opportunity is the only North Portland district. 

Each applicant will be eligible for $250-$5,000 in funding to support storefront improvement projects. Applications are open now and will be accepted on a rolling basis through April 30, 2021. If your application is approved, work must be completed by June 30, 2021.

One change some interested applicants may see this year that’s different is that SJCO is positioning the program to be open year-round, although awarded projects have to be completed by the end of the fiscal year, which is in June. 

It is a matching grant program, which means the grant provides one dollar for every dollar you invest in a project up to $5,000. In some cases, mostly for underrepresented groups, they will lower the match amount to 25%. The project site must be located in the Urban Renewal Area, which for St. Johns basically follows Lombard Street. You can check to see if  your business or property is eligible by going to Portland Maps and clicking the Zoning and Districts button, then scroll down to the Urban Renewal Area and if the property is located within the eligible area, it will say “Property Eligible: Yes.”