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Business owners on the W192 tourism corridor will be eligible for grants to pay for new signs starting in 2016.
Business owners on the W192 tourism corridor will be eligible for grants to pay for new signs starting in 2016. (Osceola County)

The first $1 million in sign replacement grants could go out by January if members of Osceola's W192 Development Authority approve the new grant program at their next meeting.

The authority has a workshop this Friday to make any last minute revisions to the program before the Dec. 3 meeting.

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"I get at least three calls a week from business owners who want the new signs," said David Buchheit, executive director for the authority, who would have the final say on signage grant applications. The grants would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

"I'm expecting about 60 or 70 applications - that's why we have it set up for staff approval instead of going to the board," he said. "That would be a lot to ask of a volunteer board, and I don't want to slow the process down."

The authority has $1 million earmarked in its FY 2016 budget to pay for sign replacements on a first-come first-served basis in segment 2 - the tourism district. All business owners will be required to replace their signs with the new monument signs by 2021.

The new signs would include LED lighting to improve visibility at night.
The new signs would include LED lighting to improve visibility at night. (Osceola County)

Applicants would be required to include photos of their existing signs and get cost estimates from at least three licensed contractors.

"The good news is the cost of the signs is significantly lower than we thought," Buchheit said.

The price of a single-tenant sign should run between $13,000 and $15,000. Shopping centers and large hotels will be allowed to install a maximum 100-square-foot monument sign, which would cost around $26,000 to $28,000.

The grant would cover the full cost of the sign, as well as removal of the existing sign and landscaping. "Removal can run anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the size of the sign," Buchheit said.

Bonds could also pay for facade grants and building demolition if the Osceola County Commission approves the W192 Development Authority's idea for dramatically improving the look of the 15-mile stretch.

Authority Chairman Mark Miller had pitched the idea of asking the county commissioners to issue revenue bonds so the authority could replace all the signs on the 15-mile corridor at once. But Buchheit said most board members want to stick with their original plan to phase the program in over the next few years.

At Friday's workshop, Authority members will also review the new facade improvement and demolition grant programs that are also up for a vote Dec. 3.

The facade grant, available to any business owner, would provide up to $15,000 for exterior improvements such as painting, lighting, window and door replacement and parking lot improvements. The property owner would be required to pay 50 percent of the project cost.

If the board approves, vacant buildings such as a Haunted Mansion and former Castle nightclub would be obvious candidates for demolition in the tourism corridor.

The demolition grants would be made available to owners of vacant buildings in an effort to eliminate blight on the corridor and make the property more attractive to buyers. That program allows up to $75,000 or 50 percent of the cost for demolition and debris removal, but it could include improvements, such as fencing, security lighting, sidewalks and curbs so the property complies with current codes.

"The discussion is about the grants and making sure it's the direction they want to go," Buchheit said. "They could change the dollar amounts or required match. They could say we want to do 100 percent to incentivize buildings coming down."

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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