Facade Improvement Program
Laurel District Facade Improvement Program

Download the Pre-Qualification Application here

Facades of the Laurel – Improvement Program (FLIP) is a building facade improvement program for small businesses located on MacArthur Blvd. in the Laurel commercial district. The Laurel District Association (LDA) is a non-profit and property-based Business Improvement District that is dedicated to working with business owners to enhance the commercial corridor. The LDA invites business and property owners to apply for this grant to cover costs associated with a street-facing facade improvement. The goal is to help fund improvements that will enhance a business’s appeal as well as the pedestrian experience in the Laurel. Projects will be selected based on the current condition of the facade, proposed improvement, and eligibility. Approved projects will be eligible for reimbursement of 50% of the approved project cost, up to $2,500.

In 2011 the Laurel District Association commissioned a report studying the architecture of the district resulting in an advisory tool for design guidelines for facade improvements. This is an excellent resource to assist in the creation of beautiful, impactful, and safe business facades.

Download the full Laurel District Design Guidlines packet here

For your reference the Oakland Small Business Design Guidline packet is available here

An at-a-glance guide for City of Oakland permits needed and costs (many improvement have NO permits or very low cost permits needed), click here

Facades of the Laurel - Improvement Program (FLIP)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Below are a series of frequently asked questions that the LDA has identified as potentially being helpful to applicants. Please let us know if you have a question that is not answered below.
  1. What is a building Facade?
A building facade is the exterior wall(s) of a building, explicitly frontage walls at sidewalks, such as MacArthur Blvd. A building facade includes exterior siding, windows, doors, awnings, business signs, exterior lighting, and more. Think of building facades as anything a pedestrian can see, touch, or hear.
  1. What is a Facade Improvement Program?
Facade improvement programs are incentive programs created to encourage property owners and businesses to improve the exterior appearance of their buildings and storefronts. The LDA’s facade improvement program provides a 50% matching, up to $2,500, financial incentive to Laurel Businesses to improve their building facades.
  1. How can a business in the Laurel apply to receive matching facade improvement funds?
Businesses located within the Laurel District can apply for matching façade improvement funds by filling out an application and turning it back in by mail or email.
The application consists of two parts:

Pre-Qualification application - Allows the LDA to review your ideas for what you hope to accomplish with your improvement project. If the project is a good fit for this first round of matching funds you will be invited to submit the full application with the details and costs estimates of your project. Once you have been Pre-Qualified you will be informed of the approximate dollar amount that the LDA will make available for your project. Questions may arise from your Pre-Qualification application and specific details may be requested. The LDA will be available to assist you in creating a viable project.
Final Application -  After you have been Pre-Qualified you will be asked to provide the full plan for your improvement project along with a budget or contractor job estimate. This is the first step in moving ahead with the improvement, and will show the LDA you are serious and ready to get started.
Email: laureldistrictassociation@yahoo.com
Mail: 4222 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619
  1. Why is there a two part application process?
The Pre-Qualification should require very little time and no cost on your part. We don’t know how many applications we will get and we want as many businesses as possible to consider improving their facade. When a business gets their Pre-Qualification application approved, you will know how much money the program will contribute and you can start working with a contractor, or architect, or sign company, or landscaper to get the final costs quotes and project details. As long as a Pre-Qualified candidate approaches the project professionally, follows the process, including the submission of the completed Final Application and Merchant Checklist, and no unapproved changes occur to the scope of work, then they will be awarded the money pledged if the pre-qualification application is approved.
This allows you to seriously start working on the project, knowing that there is money set aside for you.
  1. Who is available to help me with my application when I have questions?
Businesses and property owners can contact:
Laurel District Executive Director, Daniel Swafford at laureldistrictassociation@yahoo.com or 510.452.7392
  1. How can a Facade Improvement Program help my business, even if I don’t receive matching funds?
By bettering the appearance of building facades, the program serves to improve the economic vitality of the commercial district. Clean, attractive aesthetics increase property values, improve the marketability of space within the buildings and draw business and residents to the area.  An attractive, well signed  business is good for business, yours and your neighbors.
  1. What are matching funds for a Facade Improvement Program?
The LDA ‐ FLIP will provide a dollar for dollar match, up to $2,500, for façade improvements that align with the LDA – FLIP goals. The program will allocate up to $20,000 for matching grants in 2017 and will consider continuing the program in 2018.

There are also 0% to low interest funding resources to assist in funding your project. View the list of the Good Local Money Guide for a list of resources, including the Kiva Zip small business lending program. Click Here
  1. What types of projects are eligible to receive matching funds?
There are a number of exterior façade improvements that are eligible under LDA – FLIP. These improvements include
∙ Repair
∙ Replacement of awnings
∙ Repair or replacement of windows
∙ Doors, signs, lighting, exterior siding and/or tile
∙ Exterior security cameras and DVRs
∙ Landscaping
∙ Power washing 
∙ Painting exterior walls
∙ Replacing or removing unattractive security gates
  1. What are the Top 5 things I can do to improve my facade?
The top 5 building facade improvements you can make are
  1. Removing signs, posters, and advertisements from your business windows
  2. Removing or replacing deteriorated awnings.
  3. Improving exterior lighting
  4. Improving the attractiveness of your business storefront with landscaping or planters
  5. Update existing business signs or install new signs that match the Laurel District Design Guidelines for signs - visit www.LaurelOakland.com (Facade Grant tab)
  1. What does the ‘Pedestrian Experience’ mean?
The pedestrian Experience refers to the design of public space within a neighborhood or district. The public space includes the street, sidewalks, landscape planning, and quality of the building facades. Several street elements such as street furniture, lighting, trees, and public art can impact the safety of pedestrians and make them feel comfortable when they walk along the block.
  1. How are applications being evaluated?
Applications are evaluated based on different criteria. The application includes a brief description of the type of work the applicant would like to have completed. The type of proposed improvements will be compared to the LDA – FLIP goals, the viability of the project, and whether the business has been in operation for at least 2 years.
Each of these criteria are assigned points to determine eligibility and a priority rank for each proposal.
  1. Who is evaluating the applications?
All applications are reviewed by LDA staff and a selection committee, which include Masters in Public Policy students from nearby Mills College.
  1. What does sustainability mean?
Sustainability is based on a simple principle; Everything that we (humans) need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. The LDA - PLIP program defines sustainability as products, designs, and improvements that minimise harmful effect on the environment, decreases the need for energy or water use, and increases or improves human health including YOURS.
  1. What is a ‘Sustainable materials incentive’?
The sustainable materials incentive was created to help Laurel businesses and property owners to learn about and implement the use of materials that are environmentally friendly. Businesses and property owners that incorporate sustainable building materials with their facade improvements are eligible to earn additional points.
  1. What are sustainable materials?
Sustainable materials include Low or no VOC paint, Reusable materials (such as doors or windows from UrbanOre), Low or No VOC adhesives and caulking, use of LED lights, incorporation of Natural light (from new windows or skylights that increase pedestrian visibility of your store from the street), energy and water efficient fixtures. Additional questions about sustainable materials can be answered by LDA staff.
  1. What are sustainability practices that I can use to improve my facade?
A few simple sustainability practices that can help improve your building facade are replacing windows with heat resistant glass, upgrading to dual pane windows, installing LED lights on the exterior of the building, and incorporating solar energy with your lighting and appliances.
  1. Why would I include sustainability practices with my business?
Sustainable practices are not just good for the environment, they are also great for business and property owners. Most businesses are open 50 or more hours a week and a large number of them have lights and signs that may use energy even more each week. When businesses and property owners use sustainable materials, they can reduce the amount of energy and water they need from municipal services - which can save business and property owners money every month. Additionally, sustainable materials, such as low or no VOC paints, are also less harmful to employees, staff and customers. This means that harmful chemicals that impact employees, staff and customers health are avoided.
  1. What are historic buildings in Oakland?
Historic buildings in Oakland are those that are deemed worthy of preservation. They may be designated for historical, cultural, educational, architectural, aesthetic, or environmental value.
  1. How do I know if my building is historic?
The City of Oakland has many resources dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings. More information can be found by visiting the City of Oakland’s Historic Preservation page at: http://www2.oaklandnet.com/Government/o/PBN/OurServices/Historic/DOWD009012
  1. Are there historic features I can incorporate into my facade, even if my building is not a designated historic building?
Yes! Your building does not have to be historic to have historic appeal. Businesses and property owners can create historic appeal by including elements, such as brick columns, wood siding and art deco style of the 1920s are all encouraged to be integrated into the district’s building facades. More information can be found in the Laurel District Design guidelines.
  1. What is ‘Public Art’?
Public art is any media that has been designed and installed with the intention of increasing the pedestrian experience. The LDA has created a district-wide art initiative that seeks to create a cohesive and enhanced visual appearance to the pedestrian experience within the Laurel District. Additional funds may be available for the right art inclusion.
  1. How does public art relate to my facade and business?
Public art not only gives the Laurel District a unique and uniform identify, but also helps to stimulate business, increase property value, and enhance the overall pedestrian experience.
  1. Why should I be cautious about altering the structural support of my building?
Occasionally, minor window repairs and building facade improvements can involve altering, replacing, or moving the structural supports of a building. The LDA cautions businesses when altering the structural support of their building for two reasons: First, the cost and time of construction for projects that alter the structural support of the building are more expensive and take longer to complete than minor facade improvements. Second, the permitting of structural alterations is more involved and could involve including improvements beyond the original scope of work, such as triggering ADA improvements to bathrooms.
Of course replacing structural supports that are found to have dry rot is highly encouraged, as are improvements that enhance accessibility for all are also encouraged, the LDA just wants to be sure businesses and property owners are aware of the added cost, time, and City approval that is required when altering the structural support of buildings.
  1. Where can I find a building contractor to help me?
There are a number of resources available to help business and property owners find reputable building contractors to complete facade improvement projects. One of the best resources available for finding a local, reliable building contractor are your friends and neighbors. Ask people you know who helped them with building projects and how the building contractor was to work with.
Business and property owners can also find building contractors through the City of Oakland’s List of Contractors from their facade improvement program: http://bit.ly/1XTcHwW. Contractors on the list are licensed to do work in the City of Oakland and have been evaluated by city staff unless otherwise stated. Other resources can be found by internet search (Google, Yahoo or Bing) for ‘building contractors in Oakland’ or by visiting websites like Angie’s List: http://www.angieslist.com/ or similar web based services like the SF/Bay Area Chapter of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry)
  1. What types of questions should I ask building contractors?
We have created a list of questions (below) to help you get started finding a reputable building contractor:
  • What are typical issues or limitations for commercial jobs involving:
    • Signs?
    • Awnings?
    • Exterior paint and/or siding?
    • Window and door replacements or maintenance?
  • How big does a job need to be to make it worth your time? Or what is too small?
  • Can you give any examples of recent jobs or ball-park figures on cost?
  • Can you give any tips or advice about obtaining permits from the city for facade improvement projects?
  • Are you licensed in Oakland?
  • Do you have any designers you typically work with?
  • Copy of Liability Insurance & Bond
     Here are some additional tips on What You Should Do Before You Hire A Contractor
  • Hire only state-licensed contractors.
  • Check a contractor's license number online at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752).
  • Get at least three bids.
  • Get three references from each bidder and review past work in person.
  • Make sure all project expectations are in writing and only sign the contract if you completely understand the terms. Avoid Time and Materials agreements.
  • Confirm that the contractor has workers' compensation insurance for employees.
  • Never pay more than 10% down or $1,000* whichever is less. Don't pay in cash.
  • Don't let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Keep a job file of all papers relating to your project, including all payments.
  • Don't make the final payment until you're satisfied with the job.
Published by permission from Contractors State License Board. ​*For exceptions to this rule, visit cslb's website.
  1. How can I learn more about the LDA - FLIP matching funds opportunity and ask questions in person?
Please read through the LDA - FLIP application and supporting materials for more information. You can also email additional questions to the LDA Executive Director at laureldistrictassociation@yahoo.com
  1. How much can you save by upgrading windows to dual pane?
There is no doubt that you will save money on your utility bill by installing insulated replacement windows. But exactly how much is a very tricky question. We have heard estimates up to 50% of current energy costs! This means your window upgrades will pay for themselves in as little as 5 years.
  1. What are VOCs?
Per the California Department of Public Health; “Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are carbon containing chemicals that vaporize and can enter the body through normal breathing. VOCs can come from many sources. They are used as ingredients in paints, cleaning products, and adhesives. They are released by building materials such as carpet, linoleum, composite wood products, and insulation to name a few. Office equipment such as printers, copiers, and fax machines may also emit VOCs.”
VOCs found in paint, carpet, adhesives etc. can make you feel sick and dizzy. By using materials that are Low or No VOCs are good for people and the planet!
Laurel District Association 2015