Petal, Hattiesburg make use of façade grants

Business owners and officials in Petal and Hattiesburg are putting to good use $13,000 in grant money earmarked for aesthetic improvements around town.
The funds, which were received last year through Community Investment Façade Grants from Mississippi Power, were awarded for building improvements, including painting, signage, light fixtures, landscaping and general maintenance. Mississippi Power instituted the program to encourage property owners to upgrade their storefronts with the goal of increasing property value and enhancing the overall appearance of the community, making it more attractive to consumers and potential investors.
In the Friendly City, the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce split $3,000 in grant money equally between three businesses: Revitalizations LLC, Vaughn Law Firm and Adam Watkins Ventures.
“The revitalization of a neglected commercial district or residential neighborhood often begins with improvements to a single building or storefront, which oftentimes stimulates similar improvements in neighboring buildings,” said Valerie Wilson, executive director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “The residents of Petal have expressed their desire for beautification efforts in the city. These grants are a boost to those efforts.”
Vaughn Law Firm used the funds for landscaping, while the staff at Adam Watkins Ventures painted the building. Jeff Sapp, owner of Revitalizations LLC on West Central Avenue, used his store’s share of the funds to install new signage in the front of the building.
“I had a temporary sign (before), because real signs cost a lot of money,” Sapp said. “Now I have a 4-by-8 metal sign, and there’s two separate ones that are on each side of the post that are my permanent signs now.”
Meanwhile, the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association received $10,000 in Community Investment Façade Grants, which was split equally between 10 businesses in or near downtown: 
Black Sheep’s Café, which invested in cleaning, painting, signage and light fixtures;
Blu Jazz Café, which installed new signage, ornamental elements and lighting;
Keg & Barrel, which pressured washed the building, ugraded the louvered vents and strung LED lights along the fence;
Main Street Books, which will repaint the building’s façade, replace broken glass, install new signage and add string lights to the building;
R3SM; which painted, repaired damaged wood, installed new signage and landscaping;
Town Square Café, which installed new signage;
Advantage Welding, which cleaned the building, rented a backhoe and laid down 16 yards of gravel;
Twin Forks Wine & Provisions, which is installing a new back door and stairs, as well as landscaping the exterior dining area;
Connect Chiropractic, which is repairing awning, painting, replacing wall sconces and getting a new mailbox; and
A Renae Salon, which is repairing awning, painting, replacing wall sconces and getting a new mailbox.
Sarah Halliwell Carver, who co-owns Twin Forks Wine & Provisions along with her husband Brian, said the grant money gave them the jump-start they needed to make the upgrades.
“We’re really excited,” she said. “(The funds) were very helpful – it was money that we didn’t have to spend on our own, or take out excess loans, to continue building on our kitchen.”
Mississippi Power’s grants came with a few stipulations – first and foremost, the funds were required to go to open businesses, as residencies and vacant businesses did not qualify under the terms of the grants. Additional stipulations stated that improvements must begin within 30 days of receiving funds and projects must be completed within one year.
In addition to Petal and Hattiesburg, three other areas in Mississippi Power’s Pine Belt Division received grants: Laurel Main Street, the Greater PineBelt Community Foundation (Sumrall) and the Covington County Chamber of Commerce (Seminary).
“It was very much appreciated,” said Andrea Saffle, executive director of the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association. “I think it sparked a lot of projects that people had been thinking about doing.
“We’re hopeful that (Mississippi Power) will consider doing it again, because there was such a positive response from it. But if not, we’re looking for other ways that we can create and fund a program on our own.”