In past decades, Metairie's Fat City and the roughly one-mile stretch of Jefferson Highway between Deckbar Avenue and the Orleans Parish line were centers of Jefferson Parish's commercial vitality. Shops, restaurants and other businesses helped to fuel the area's growth.

But now, with traffic siphoned away by other major thoroughfares and commercial areas, many of the businesses in those areas are showing their years.

Parish officials hope to change that. Working in conjunction with the Jefferson Economic Development Commission, known as JEDCO, they have begun a façade improvement program that offers loans of up to $50,000 to help business owners upgrade the parts of their business that face the street, according to a news release about the program.

Importantly, the loans are forgivable to eligible borrowers.

Before business owners can collect the loans, however, they must fill out an "interest survey." If their application then is approved, the loaned funds must be used exclusively for exterior improvements, such as to windows, doors, masonry, awnings or signs. Upgrades to outdoor spaces, entryways, landscaping or for ADA accessibility are also eligible expenditures.

Priority will be given to projects with the greatest visual impact, officials said.

A total of $750,000 is available for the program, all of it coming from federal Community Development Block Grant funds, said Jerry Bologna, JEDCO's president and CEO.

Bologna said he hopes the money will be used to make the areas more attractive to other commercial development.

"The aspiration is to bring more businesses to the areas," he said.

The two areas present different challenges.

Fat City — defined as the area bounded by Severn Avenue, West Esplanade Avenue, Division Street and Veterans Memorial Boulevard — has seen incremental redevelopment, but Bologna said this program could speed that process up.

In the Jefferson Highway corridor, the goal is to capitalize on the increased traffic that Ochsner Health System's planned $360 million expansion in the area is bringing to the area. 

The program is drawing good interest from the businesses in the two areas, Bologna said.

Officials selected the two areas after looking at several places in the parish that would have been good fits, he said. 

The program is the first of its kind in Jefferson Parish, though Bologna said similar efforts in Orleans Parish have been successful.

Bologna hopes the two areas won't be the parish's last. Certain areas of the West Bank, including along the expressway and Lapalco and Barataria boulevards, would be good candidates for a similar effort, he said. 

The deadline to fill out the survey is Nov. 17. After that, the formal application process will be opened.

Questions may be directed to facade@gcrincorporated.com or (504) 304-2500, ext. 2236.

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.