The city has decided to apply for up to $13 million in federal grants to help upgrade its main downtown thoroughfare.

The decision to go after TIGER II grants, offered through the U.S. Department of Transportation, came at a meeting Tuesday between Wilton Manors Main Street, a non-profit group of business owners pushing for the project, and City Manager Joseph Gallegos.

The grants would help fund the city's proposed project to remodel and improve Wilton Drive and Dixie Highway, as well as further develop other parts of the city and improve local transportation.

They also may figure into a private development proposal. Gables Residential, which wants to build a $15 million parking structure and mixed-use residential and retail development at the old city hall site, has offered to provide the required $2.5 million match for a TIGER II construction grant.

"The city wants to have more housing and more parking and more retail, and to do it in a pretty way," said Tom Tabor, chairman of the Main Street initiative to improve Wilton Drive.

Gables' development of the lot will also serve as an expansion for the new city hall, with a new Island City Plaza to host special events.

However, if the city is not awarded the construction grant, plans for the parcel will be put on hold. The $2.5 million commitment from Gables is still being negotiated, City Manager Joseph Gallegos said.

"The project will happen eventually, even if it's not right now," said Tabor, a paid consultant for Gables Residential.

Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 come in two types. Cities can apply for a construction grant of up to $50 million, a planning grant of up to $3 million for planning, designing and engineering, or both. Only the construction grant requires a $2.5 million match.

Wilton Manors will apply for both planning and construction grants, although it may have a better shot at the planning grant, because construction grants typically go to cities with shovel-ready projects, said Tabor, who is helping the city with the grant-seeking process.

"We qualify for both," he said.

The grants go to cities that have drawn up plans addressing national issues, like creating jobs and improving the environment and transportation.

Wilton Manors has submitted a preliminary TIGER II application and will begin working out the details of the full application to meet its Aug. 23 deadline.

"It's a great return for our money, of course, especially since we aren't putting up the $2.5 million," said Commissioner Scott Newton. "It'll put Wilton Drive back on the map again, because we'll have parking. It'll be a big boost for the city."

Source: Sun-Sentinel