May 6—LIMA — Private businesses want to spruce up downtrodden areas of Lima, and they’re putting up at least $45,000 over the next five years to make it happen.

Block Challenge Lima debuted Wednesday morning at Lima Mayor David Berger’s weekly press conference. The new private-sector program, introduced by retired local builder Mike Blass, will award up to $1,000 per project to make facade improvements to at least five properties in a neighborhood, as long as the residents or homeowners are willing to match at least half the cost.

They’re looking for clusters of at least five properties in a neighborhood, funding two clusters per year over the next five years. Perhaps the grants will help with repairing or building curbs, driveways, exterior lights, flower boxes, front doors and screen doors, front-yard landscaping, mailboxes or house plaques, painting, porch and soffit repair, sidewalks or shutters.

“We’re not so focused on the big and bold. Certainly, we’d like to see those kinds of improvements, but we also recognize the more sustained, long-term impact on a neighborhood that’s going to happen,” Blass said. “That’s kind of the point of this. The other part of it is we’re trying to restore confidence in that neighborhood, by using the visual cues.”

Residents have through 5 p.m. June 15 to apply to Block Challenge Lima, with applications available online at Neighbors must work together on their applications, with preference given toward properties in Neighborhood Improvement Areas. The program is competitive and not based on income levels. The application focuses on what will be done and how the momentum will be sustained.

There will be a community information meeting about Block Challenge Lima at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 12, at Lima-Allen County Neighborhoods in Partnership, 1440 W. Spring St., Lima. Residents and community groups can learn more about the program there and ask questions. Project winners will be announced July 14, with work completed this year.

The bulk of the money, $25,000 of it, came from Greater Lima Region Inc., with $5,000 donations from Blass Construction & Remodeling, Good Food Restaurants, Hartsock Realty and Smith-Boughan Mechanical. Donations are tax-deductible through the Lima Community Foundation.

“One part of GLR’s mission is to stimulate community development and provide resources to neighborhood revitalization programs, so this aligns perfectly with our organizational goals,” said Doug Olsson, president and CEO of Greater Lima Region Inc. “We believe that vibrant neighborhoods are key to a thriving community, and providing incentives to residents to invest in their properties will have a significant impact on our city.”

Lima Mayor David Berger applauded the private sector for stepping up to help make change happen.

“I think the idea is to call people to action, to encourage people to do really wonderful things with their own property,” Berger said, “and then recognize that has a beneficial effect more broadly in the community. I think it’s a great idea.”

Blass based the idea on a podcast he heard about the Renaissance Block Challenge in Oswego, N.Y. It’s a Rust Belt city that found itself without enough private investment, even though people had the capability to fix up their residences. They just needed motivation.

“One of the things that they’ve talked about is that there’s this fallacy,” Blass said. “‘If we just get the right industry in town, it will save us. If we just get the right grant; if we just get the right outside money. What they have identified, and they actually have research that validated it, is that there are millions of dollars right in their community.”

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.

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