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City promotes facade improvement grant for historic district

Downtown property owners, businesses encouraged to apply for up to $15K

Front Street, situated in the heart of Cotulla’s downtown business district, is the focus of historic preservation and economic revitalization. Among the buildings to have seen the benefit of hotel tax revenues is the former Stockmens Bank (Photo above, left), which is now owned by the city and will serve as headquarters of the Main Street Program

Owners of buildings in Cotulla’s downtown historic district have an opportunity to seek matching funds from the city towards the rehabilitation of their properties through an enhanced facade improvement grant recently approved by councilors.

The Main Street Program at Cotulla is supported in large part by revenues from the municipal Hotel Occupancy Tax, which applies a surcharge to every hotel or motel room booked in the city. According to city finance director Ernesto Garcia and his predecessor Jorge Flores, addressing councilors at their two recent monthly meetings, the fund may amount to more than a million dollars each year.

Under the revamped facade improvement initiative, those looking to restore their building facades or install new signage may have up to $15,000 in dollar-for-dollar funding from City Hall if they meet a rake of established criteria for the updates.

According to Main Street Program Manager Karina Sauceda this week, the grant is aimed at helping property owners improve the appeal of the downtown area by reconditioning historic architectural features, repurposing the city’s oldest buildings in keeping with guidelines established by City Hall in 2022, and helping improve the downtown economy with viable enterprises while also making the historic district attractive to tourists.

The revised version of the grant program was given the green light by councilors at their February meeting and replaces an earlier program under which businesses and property owners could ask for $5,000 in support of their new signage or facade repairs.

Projects eligible for grant funding include new signage or repairs to existing signs, sidewalk repairs, awnings, lighting, paint, removal or replacement of historically incompatible exterior finishes or materials, recessing or reconfiguring entrances, removal of extraneous elements, door and window replacement or repair, exterior cleaning, and refurbishment of exterior architectural elements.

Preference in the grant awards is given to commercial buildings with operating businesses, according to City Hall, although the Main Street Program manager added that churches may also apply, as there are presently several buildings being used by local congregations in the downtown area. 

Both Sauceda and Garcia indicated this week that the grant is made possible at its higher level in large part because of the booming hotel industry in Cotulla. Funds funneled to City Hall by the hotel tax have in the past paid for the complete reconstruction of a former garage at the corner of Main and Carrizo streets, now repurposed at City Hall; extensive sidewalk and lighting upgrades on Front Street; and the ongoing conversion of the former Stockmens Bank building into city offices and headquarters of the Main Street Program. Other uses of the tax revenues include the commissioning of bronzes by sculptor Armando Hinojosa at Veterans Park downtown and at the Welhausen School, and a new bronze of local philanthropist Florence Maltsberger, being sculpted this year for placement at Plaza Florita.

“What we are hoping with this new initiative is to get more downtown businesses, churches, property owners, to come on board with our goal of beautifying the historic district and helping them attract more visitors,” Sauceda said on Tuesday. “This grant can be applied to a wide range of improvements. As long as it is in keeping with our historic guidelines, we actively encourage it.

“This is not a reimbursement grant at all,” the Main Street Program manager added. “Those looking to make improvements or repairs, or to bring their facades back in line with the original appearance of the downtown area, should lay out a detailed plan for the work, complete with cost estimates and specifications, and have a workable timeline established for completing the job, and the city can match up to $15,000 of the expense.”

All applications for the funding will be reviewed by the Main Street Program’s advisory board and its design team to ensure they meet established guidelines, which are outlined in the grant application package available from City Hall.

“We hope to achieve a gradual and progressive rehabilitation of our historic downtown area,” Sauceda said. “The city believes this is a very good use of our hotel tax because it meets all the state’s criteria for how a municipal government can spend its revenues from that specific source.

“It’s not easy to achieve our goals, with the present national economy and materials prices,” Sauceda said, “but we offer design guidelines and access to other resources through the Texas Historical Commission. Ultimately, these projects will keep the appeal of the historic district for future generations.”

The downtown Cotulla historic district encompasses an area bounded approximately by Kerr, Tilden, Market and Carrizo streets.

“The Main Street Program mission is to reinvigorate the local economy by giving downtown properties new appeal, drawing business to the area as well as tourism,” Sauceda said. “In turn, this will bring new life to the area, sustain the enterprises, and make downtown Cotulla attractive to visitors.

“The facade and signage grant will help people view their building improvements as beautification at the same time as they update their frontage while preserving the historical and architectural integrity of our valuable heritage,” Sauceda said. “We want people to have a greater feeling of ownership and participation in this effort, to research the historic aspects of their buildings and to take advantage of the resources available.”

The city council is expecting to announce grant recipients and describe the improvements being funded through the program as each is reviewed by the board and forwarded to elected officials for a vote.


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