EDA votes to expand incentive programs

Published 9:57 pm Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Economic Development Authority voted unanimously Wednesday to expand incentive programs through a new initiative to help restaurants and retail businesses open downtown.

Called the Downtown Suffolk Business Development Program, it used the long-running façade grant program as one of its models, Assistant Economic Development Director Gregory Byrd said.

But whereas the façade grant program looks at the exterior of a business, the business development program will focus on its interior, such as equipment, furniture and fixtures and property improvements, according to Byrd. New and existing businesses that get approved for the grant could get up to $10,000 to be reimbursed to them for expenses related to those items, and they would have to complete their projects within 12 months and stay open for a minimum of one year.

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“This program deals with a lot of other aspects of the business, both related but separate in terms of what they need and how they apply,” Byrd said. “So they can kind of work hand-in-glove to provide you as an economic development authority and we as the city’s economic developers opportunities that the citizens and the businesses don’t have today.”

Byrd said eligible businesses could apply for both programs, which he said would be helpful “depending on the set of circumstances that you encounter with the business.”

It also used the state’s Community and Business Launch grant program as a model, but whereas that would limit the geographic scope of the downtown area in which businesses could apply for grants, the local program broadens it.

“One of the lessons learned is the Community and Business Launch grant from the state specified very specific areas within our downtown and, be that as it may,” Byrd said, “there were opportunities that we may have missed to provide grant funding. This broadens it, and the only missed opportunity is the one that you choose to pass.”

Wall St. Café is getting the last $15,000 of the $45,000 that remained from the state Department of Housing and Community Development grant money, with specific requirements on how it could be used.

As part of the city’s Downtown Master Plan, it includes recommendations for preparing a retail recruitment strategy, which Byrd noted provides the impetus for developing such a grant program.