The Denison Development Alliance is assisting downtown property owners protect their buildings from future fires, like the one that destroyed three buildings late last year.
The DDA announced Thursday that it will be allocating $100,000 toward a new matching grant program that would support businesses in installing fire-suppression systems to buildings.
Under the terms of the program, the DDA could help finance up to 50 percent of the cost to install fire suppression.
“The primary purpose of this program is to help save lives and reduce damage to private and public property as we experienced in the 300-block, multi-building, downtown fire on Oct. 9, 2019,” the DDA said in a news release issued Thursday.
“A secondary purpose is to encourage infill development investment, including lofts, restaurants, shops, offices ... which will continue to strengthen downtown Denison.”
The new incentive comes in response to a blaze that claimed three Main Street buildings late last year. The blaze occurred at about 10 a.m. on Oct. 9, 2019 in a nail salon at 317 W. Main Street.
The blaze was ultimately contained after many hours by the efforts of Denison Fire Rescue and other neighboring departments, but not before 317, 319 and 321 W. Main St. were destroyed.
Other neighboring businesses were also damaged by the smoke or water in the fire.
“That just glaringly brought it (the need) to our attention,” DDA Vice President William Myers said. “We’ve had several meetings with the city and our fire suppression partners on what we can do.”
One of the key barriers that has kept fire suppression and sprinkler systems from many buildings is the cost, Myers said. For many businesses the upfront cost for installing a system can be anywhere between $35,000 to $85,000.
As an example of the cost, Myers said there is a property owner who is looking to add lofts to a downtown property. In order to build two lofts upstairs, it would cost about $300,000, but would not require fire suppression.
In order to build four, smaller lofts, the owner would instead need to invest $600,000, including $80,000 for fire suppression.
“We’ve seen projects die because they were too expensive,” Myers said.
Myers notes that it is possible that a fire suppression system could have save some of the buildings that were lost on Oct. 9.
In speaking with the owners of the Desk and Easel — one of the businesses that was lost during the fire — Myers said they had considered fire suppression, but were stopped due to the cost. In hindsight, they would have been interested in the incentive if it was offered at the time.
“If we had this incentive ... I think they would have chosen to do it and it could have stopped it and we would have had a better chance of saving that building.”
100k is for this year. Expects one that could make use of it this year, but hopes to have funding every year.
“Then main thing we are trying to avoid what happened back in October. We have missed some chances to do this.”
Myers noted that the program is only funded for the current year, but said it is likely the grant could return in future years if it proves to be successful.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.