PROVO — If you haven't visited Provo lately, you might be surprised by what you see in the heart of the city. It clearly reflects the difference a facelift can make on a community's fortunes.
If you take a look at the before-and-after shots of historic buildings along Provo's Center Street, you would have to admit, they are dramatic.
"It's a beautiful facelift for the city," says Cindy Sweeten, a management analyst with Provo's Redevelopment Agency.
And Sweeten doesn't believe the pictures do justice to this transformation.
"If you look at what this looked like five years ago, and what it looks like now, it is a huge difference."
Since 2011, Provo's Facade Grant program has taken one downtown building after another from drab and lifeless to fabulous and flourishing. Josh Yost is a Provo city planner who has worked tirelessly on the project.
"We've completed 23 projects," he said. "So, it's actually really made a substantial and visible difference."
It is a change that has lured new businesses into the community like Hruska's Kolaches, a breakfast favorite for residents and visitors.
"This (the Hruska's Kolaches building) was a blighted building," Sweeten said. "It was empty, it was vacant and now, it's a viable business."
The facade program offers up to $20,000 in grant money to businesses willing to repair, paint and restore the face of buildings 30 years or older.
For more than four decades, Tony Thomas has been a part of Provo's downtown business community. He first worked for the original Modern Shoe store owners.
"They were actually immigrants from Italy that started the business," Thomas said. "They worked in shoe factories there and that's where I learned the trade."
Years later, Thomas bought the business and the building. He thought about leaving downtown when it was battling the recession blues. But, in the end, he chose to stay and take advantage of the grant program funds.
"We've restored it back to the original storefront, best we could, with the original windows and facade," Thomas said.
To qualify for the grant money, businesses have to agree to spend $1 of their money on improvements for every $3 of grant money.
Thomas spent his money on improvements inside the store and says foot traffic is definitely up.
"We see nothing but great things coming down the road so we're glad we stayed," Thomas said.
Kathryn Allen works for Provo Town Square, which owns 10 historic buildings along Center Street and University Avenue.
"Even an old barn looks much better with a new coat of paint," Allen said.
Provo Town Square owners were some of the first to commit to the facade program.
"With us being able to enhance the buildings, people's interest in downtown Provo and in being here as a tenant has greatly increased," Allen said.
Of course, not every business owner is ready to buy into the facade program, and that has been frustrating for neighbors and city planners.
"I have been surprised in some instances that it's been difficult to get people to take our money," Yost said.
"I would love to do every business, every business on Center Street would be ideal to get done," Sweeten said.
Until then, the city will continue to grow from a mere destination to something much more attractive.
"Provo is an experience, you come down here and there's just so many things to experience," Sweeten said.
In just five years, Provo's Redevelopment Agency has been able to give a facelift to more than half the downtown buildings that qualify for grant funding, and the program still has money in the bank.