The Diamond Market is one of many Pittsburgh businesses with a facade renovated through the URA's program.

Pittsburgh is known for its rich architectural heritage, and it’s a plus to launch a business in a vintage space. Not only does it help with curb appeal and drawing in customers, but small business owners also get to do their part in preserving good design.

But having a charming, old-fashioned workspace is often a challenge for small business owners. Refurbishing and maintaining an old building’s exterior is expensive, especially if you’re aiming to preserve rather than simply tear down a worn facade.

That’s why the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) is partnering with the crowdsourced lending platform Honeycomb Credit to expand their existing facade restoration program to more small businesses around the city.

The partnership “will make the URA’s Streetface Renovation Program financially accessible to more small businesses, while simultaneously allowing community members to invest in the revitalization of their neighborhoods,” says Sophia Fang, marketing lead for Honeycomb Credit. “Together, we are unlocking the potential of our local business districts.”

The new program is called PGH LIFTS, an acronym for Local Investment for Tomorrow’s Streetscapes.

In the standard iteration of its streetscape renovation program, the URA offers loans that could be partly or wholly deferred or forgiven over time to small businesses, historic building owners and homeowners looking to restore their facades. Through the program, the URA has invested $5.4 million to complete 331 facade renovations in the past 10 years.

While the terms of the agreement vary depending on the location and economic impact of the project, participants can generally expect to recoup between 40 to 80 percent of their facade restoration costs — meaning that entrepreneurs must still come up with at least some of their own startup capital for exterior renovations.

For many small businesses, even if they get help with 40 percent of the facade renovation costs, there’s no money to spare for the remaining cost. This is where Honeycomb comes in: They help small businesses finance the remaining facade renovation costs through affordable loans.

Honeycomb is a Pittsburgh-based digital crowdfunding platform that connects members with small, locally owned businesses. In addition to steering funds toward many worthy local businesses, the platform has won support and investment from several high-profile VC firms and startup accelerators, including the city-affiliated PGH Lab.

To help spread the word, Honeycomb and the URA will be having a showcase event in mid-January, bringing together architects, contractors and small business owners looking to beautify their business districts.

Interested entrepreneurs can learn more about the program and apply here.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.