Fat City was established in 1973 by a business association to promote shopping, dining and nightlife in the area.

A program to help improve the appearance of locally owned businesses in parts of east Jefferson Parish has announced the first eight of 19 projects to receive forgivable loans of up to $50,000 each.

The $1.2 million façade improvement program, administered by the parish and the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission, was first announced in 2017.

It uses federal Community Development Block Grant money to help boost the fortunes of Metairie's long-blighted Fat City district and the roughly 1-mile stretch of Jefferson Highway between Deckbar Avenue and the Orleans Parish line.

Jefferson Parish launches effort to spruce up Fat City, Jefferson Highway corridor

The idea behind the program is that helping locally owned businesses improve the character and appearance of their buildings will help attract private investment and economic development.

All but one of the first eight projects are in Fat City, which the parish has targeted for a potential rebirth as a walkable, mixed-use district of shops, eateries and, ultimately, apartments. It cracked down on code violators and made infrastructure and drainage improvements, and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office is building a $4.8 million substation there.

Drago’s restaurants received three of the loans at $50,000 each. They will be applied to exterior renovations now underway at the North Arnoult Road seafood restaurant and an adjacent building for Drago’s administrative offices, as well as a former strip club building on Edenborn Avenue that will be home to the Drago’s Charbroiling Engine Co. fire truck, which travels to festivals and other outdoor events.

Drago’s owner Tommy Cvitanovich said those three buildings are among five the business owns in Fat City, which he said has made great strides in recent years. He said the façade improvement funds are in addition to almost $600,000 the business is spending on renovations to the three buildings.

Also in Fat City, Infinity Engineering was awarded $50,000, while Cheers Sports Bar and Laurel Outdoor Advertising each got just under that amount. The Stevens Realty Group was awarded $23,350.

On Jefferson Highway, Bicycle World of Louisiana was awarded $50,000.

To receive the money, the improvements to the buildings must be visible from the street, such as replacing windows, redoing stucco exteriors, installing new landscaping or lighting, and applying a fresh coat of paint.

More than 30 companies applied for the grants, and the 19 recipients were chosen by JEDCO and the Jefferson Parish Community Development Department. They were judged on relevance to the program’s overall mission, visual impact, community impact, economic impact and the permanence of proposed improvements, JEDCO said.

JEDCO said most of the projects will be completed by the fall, and the loans will be forgiven entirely after a three-year compliance period.

Officials could not say when the 11 projects that will make up the second phase of the project will be announced.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.