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The Tax Increment Finance Authority of Hillsdale is looking to vamp up downtown Hillsdale by bringing in more small businesses. The goal, Assistant to the President of Hillsdale College and member of TIFA Mike Harner said, is to build a better tax base in Hillsdale.

TIFA provides money for city businesses to make improvements with the net effect of keeping the city’s tax base strong.

The Hillsdale TIFA district is the downtown, covering Broad Street, Hillsdale Street, Bacon Street, and Carleton Street. TIFA is relegated to providing grants within their specific district.

“People come to TIFA and want to redo the front of their buildings to make the downtown look better,” Harner said.

These grants are called “facade grants” and offer to cover up to 50 percent of necessary exterior remodeling costs.They are just one example of how TIFA helps to make downtown Hillsdale a more welcoming place. But TIFA isn’t just worried about aesthetics.

In a survey, large manufacturers told the Hillsdale TIFA that they would be more willing to set up shop in Hillsdale if the tired and often vacant downtown were improved.

“We are trying to meet a need that we are told is one of the primary needs,” President of the Hillsdale TIFA Chris Sumnar said. “If we can create a new restaurant destination in downtown Hillsdale that will draw traffic at night, it will be easier to bring in retail stores and have a more lively night-life downtown. That can be pretty much non-existent now.”

TIFA has created an incentive program that encourages small businesses to invest in the downtown. The program is specifically looking for fine-dining restaurants.

TIFA attempted this project about a year ago but with limited success. Sumnar said there was interest, but everything ended up falling through. The program is different this year, however, and TIFA is expecting more interest.

“We are really just now picking this up again,” he said. “We are sending out mail and giving phone calls to try and solicit interest again.”

Councilwoman and member of TIFA Mary Wolfram said the goal is to bring in a restaurant that is open later and focuses on dinner rather than light lunches and coffee.

“It’s odd to have an entire downtown and not one full-service, fine-dining restaurant,” Wolfram said.

Sumnar said TIFA is offering to provide the $20,000 it takes to purchase a liquor license. In addition, TIFA is willing to help with a facade grant.

“Anything that would get a business started downtown that would get an empty or non-performing property working would be good,” Harner said. “A restaurant is a big thing. It will take a fair amount of time to develop something. It is an incentive to know that TIFA is there to help [businesses] get underway.”