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Revitalization grants fuel uptown Selma facelift

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SELMA — Thanks indirectly to Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, uptown Selma received a facelift without town leaders having to ask taxpayers for more money.

In May 2009, officials discovered Carolina Power & Light Co. had overcharged the town by $50,000.

When CP&L — the utility that is now Duke Energy Progress — reimbursed the town, former Selma Mayor Dennis Davis suggested the council use that money to create the Selma Uptown Revitalization Fund.

A portion of the fund was used to replace seven awnings in the uptown business district the next year, according to Councilwoman Ann Williams. In the 10 years since, SURF grants were available to merchants for facade improvements.

With the current town budget, including the remaining $5,000 of that money, the Selma Town Council decided to create a special SURF grant program for facade paint at $500 and awning replacement at $1,000 per recipient.

In addition to the SURF grant funds, council members also allocated $10,000 for streetscape improvements.

Selma Mayor Cheryl Oliver and Williams led an effort to change the rules so grants could be given to business owners for purchases rather than reimbursements, allowing the town to buy awnings and hire painters at lower prices. Council members approved the request.

Williams said the emphasis was first placed on 10 businesses with torn awnings caused primarily by the hurricanes.

“Hurricane Florence last fall was the killer, so we decided we needed to go about things in a different way,” said Williams.

Oliver and Williams contacted each building owner to get the grant forms signed and so the owners could select awning colors.

In addition, several building owners requested new paint on the street front level of their stores. Those orders were placed in late December.

Earlier this year, Oliver and Williams approached the town’s appearance committee chairman and requested approval of a new light pole banner. The banner had been designed for the downtown historic district. Also, approval was granted for the purchase of 25 banners.

In the first week of March, painting was completed, new awnings were installed and the pole banners bearing the new town logo, along with American flags, were mounted to utility poles.

“This is just phase one of the project,” said Oliver. “There are still some awnings that need replacing if they cannot be cleaned, along with other aesthetic changes that will enhance the overall look of the downtown Selma historic district.”

Oliver said the town is planning now for the work, which will hopefully be funded in the next fiscal year.

“We are definitely ‘open for business,’ and we think creating a more vibrant town center will certainly encourage more investment here,” said Oliver.