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Fourth Avenue Façade Grant: Old Building Gets New Look 

How does Debbie Billings feel about pulling up stakes and relocating her business after nearly 30 years?

“It’s like graduating from college – I’m sad, but I’m moving up in the world,” the owner of Graphic Creations says.

With the help of a $50,000 City grant to renovate the facade of her new 12,500-square-foot building at 213 E. Fourth Ave., Graphic Creations will celebrate its grand opening on Thursday, July 28, with a 3:30 p.m. ribbon-cutting.

Billings, the president and co-founder of Graphic Creations, had started her business in the Cumberland Avenue Corridor in 1987 with a goal of providing more personalized attention with her design, copy and printing services.

Over the decades, she was a mainstay merchant along Cumberland Avenue. A supporter of the City’s $17 million reconstruction of Cumberland Avenue, Billings has been a leader with the Cumberland Avenue Merchants Association from the start. She still owns property on Cumberland and attends the monthly CAMA meetings.

The move was bittersweet, she says. While she’ll miss Cumberland Avenue, her company needed more space to grow. The right opportunity for the right property arose.

Previously, Widby Printing & Finishing had occupied the Fourth Avenue space. Widby’s owner was ready to retire; Billings purchased the building and assets and agreed to retain the Widby staff because of their extensive knowledge and skills involving the newly absorbed equipment and machinery.

Graphic Creations offers a variety of services, including vehicle wraps, wall decals, full-color commercial printing services, copying, designing, bindery, business card printing, trade show marketing, and promotional products and custom apparel. The expansion and relocation allowed some of those services to be added.

By utilizing the City of Knoxville’s Façade Improvement Program for commercial properties, Graphic Creations has been able to increase its business capacity while improving an existing building. The grant allowed Billings to invest not just in a bigger building, but also to increase the number of her employees.

Here's what the building at 213 E. Fourth Ave. used to look like:

Before facade renovations: 213 E. Fourth Ave.

Before facade renovations: 213 E. Fourth Ave.

And here's what it looks like now:

After facade renovations: 213 E. Fourth Ave.

After facade renovations: 213 E. Fourth Ave.

​Gwen Winfrey, Project Specialist in the City’s Community Development Department, says she’s elated with the results of the Fourth Avenue project.

“I could not be happier about this expansion and what it means to the community,” Winfrey says. “Graphic Creations not only kept jobs in Knoxville, they also created jobs through new construction and expanded their business. This project was a perfect fit for our Façade Improvement Program.”

With so many interior renovations needed, the exterior building facade rehabilitation was going to have to wait. Thankfully, Billings learned about the City’s facade program from a friend who'd previously partnered with the City on a façade grant.

The Façade Improvement Program provides incentive to improve the facades of buildings within targeted redevelopment areas. By enhancing the appearance of building façades, the program serves to improve the economic viability of these areas, improving marketability and drawing new businesses and residents.

Funding is based on square footage of the eligible façade. Buildings can receive $20 per square foot, with a maximum of $50,000 per building, based on total project cost. Applicants must provide a match equal to or greater than 20 percent of the amount awarded through this program. Program funding is provided in the form of a loan that is forgiven over a five-year period with no payments required, provided the property continues to be maintained in accordance with the program requirements.

In Billings’ case, the City invested $50,000 in her building’s façade, while Billings invested $45,000 of her own money. Billings’ total investment in rehabilitating the building is more than $300,000, including both interior and exterior renovations.

The building now sports a fresh upbeat color scheme, new doors and new windows, with flower beds being landscaped. Looking at old bars on windows that haven't yet been replaced, she laughs and says, “It will be nice to look more like a part of a friendly neighborhood and less like a prison.”

To apply for a Façade Grant or to learn more about the Façade Improvement Program, please visit:


- Communications Intern Morgan Herrig

Posted by evreeland On 26 July, 2016 at 1:23 PM