Despite torn up sidewalks, wet cement and a heavy coat of dirt, the city's downtown is edging closer to a new and improved look.
Two improvement plans have begun in the heart of Haverhill — the building facade improvement program and the "streetscape" program along Washington and Wingate streets.
Announced earlier this year, the facade improvement program will provide owners of downtown buildings money to improve the front of their buildings by repairing masonry, installing awnings and other touches and increasing energy efficiency.
Owners of buildings that back onto the boardwalk along the Merrimack River can also get help improving that side by adding decks or expanding existing decks.
The city's Community Development and Planning Office will oversee the projects and offer the help of an engineering firm to design the improvements. All changes must be approved by the city's Downtown Historical Commission.
"This is another element in the revitalization of downtown," said William Pillsbury, director of planning and economic development for the city.
Additional improvements that are planned include installing more LED streetlights downtown and increasing lighting in alleyways.
In the last several years, the city has found success in improving the downtown by luring new restaurants and other businesses and converting old factories to hundreds of apartments and condominiums.
Mayor James Fiorentini said the city is able to offer money to businesses thanks to a partnership with the Bank of New England. He said businesses that apply for the money will have their projects reviewed by the city. If city officials favor a particular project, they will ask the bank to lend money to the business, he said. Those loans will be at market rate interest.
The city will also set aside $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant money from the federal government to loan to participating businesses at zero percent interest, the mayor said. He said city officials are talking with certain business owners about the program, but he will not name them until the projects become official.
"This is a great project and we're happy to kick this thing off," Fiorentini said, describing the project as another "tool in the toolbox" for revitalizing Haverhill.
The last time Haverhill undertook a facade improvement project downtown was more than two decades ago.
The streetscape project, which began in late July, continues with an expected completion date of Aug. 19.
The state-funded project is widening downtown sidewalks, installing new curbs and ramps and adding trees and hanging flower pots.
Local businesses will benefit from sidewalk "bump-outs" to create space for outdoor dining and new benches.
City officials have said the new layout will not impact the number of parking spaces available downtown.
But due to the work, some downtown businesses have had to tolerate lost pedestrian traffic and restaurants have lost outdoor dining space in their prime months.
One restaurant losing outdoor seating is Sweet Things Bakery at 108 Washington St. Dianne Moonoogian, the shop's owner, said she had to lay out wooden planks to help her customers walk through the area safely. Though thankful for the improvements that will eventually come, she said, her fellow restaurateurs can't help but grumble over the inconvenience.
"We're all beside ourselves down here," she said. "I'm constantly defending the project."