DES MOINES — 26 Iowa communities have won $100,000 grants from the Iowa Economic Development Authority to improve buildings. Jim Thompson oversees what’s called the Catalyst program.“Catalyst grants are primarily for buildings that are underutilized that need a new life,” Thompson explains. “Usually underutilized means vacant, or certainly could occupy different space.”This is the third year for these grants. “Forty-percent of every funding cycle is reserved for communities less than 1,500in population. And the Legislature put that in place when this program was initiated. And it really preserves the activity for small towns — they’re competing across the board and it’s been a great program,” Thompson says.The grant in most cases is less than half of the entire project — but it is money to get things started. “I never thought that I’d say that in my career that $100,000 isn’t a lot of money — until you do a total building rehab. And it’s not uncommon to have that be several hundred thousand dollars,” according to Thompson. “So this is a way to really encourage these property owners to work with the city to make these projects happen.”The program requires the cities to apply, which Thompson says gets them involved. He says the renovation of one building in a small town can really be a catalyst to help other businesses. “You’re really putting them on the tax rolls. We really want to see these buildings improve in value, and obviously help with all the other adjacent properties in that community,” he says.Thompson says they had 73 applications for this year’s funding and they are scored on project impact, appropriateness, funding, and incorporation of sustainability/smart growth principles.Thompson says there are just a few restrictions on the use of the money. He says they have a two-year timeline from July 1st to complete the project. Thompson says it is possible to grant an extension if something pops up. Thompson says around 90% of the projects in smaller towns include some sort of residential component.Belmond, Clarksville and Forest City were the three north-central Iowa communities that received funding. Belmond’s funding will help with the Ramsay School Building, Clarksville’s will be for the Mather Building, and Forest City will be rehabilitating a hardware store for another business.