EDA considers funding requests for upcoming fiscal year

Staff writer

As the year winds down, City Council will soon turn its attention toward crafting and adopting the city’s operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

As part of that, the city’s Economic Development Authority weighed its priorities in the coming year and discussed possible funding requests at its monthly meeting Dec. 12.

In a draft prepared by economic development office staff, the EDA could come to City Council with a $440,000 funding request at a meeting next year. Areas of focus included developing a business association for downtown shops and restaurants, grant programs for existing businesses in the city and the EDA’s role in future downtown revitalization initiatives.

The Economic Development Authority’s operating budget for the fiscal year of 2020 would total $110,000, according to a report prepared by the economic development office. Covered under that budget are $15,500 in administrative costs, $10,000 that would go toward new business recruitment and $34,500 in funding for the Launchpad regional business incubator.

The board is also expected to request $25,000 to go toward the creation of a Downtown Business Association. The idea began last summer when the board was looking for ways to bolster downtown vibrancy, and the funds would go towards staffing and legal costs for the business association, Economic Development Director Michele Mixner DeWitt said.

“Staff’s thinking is that the role of the EDA should really be to facilitate this downtown business association formation,” she said. “It’s the hard work that needs to be done to really have a unified downtown.”

While the EDA expects to narrow its focus as it relates to downtown vibrancy on the Downtown Business Association, board members discussed the possibilities of passing downtown event funding and placemaking efforts to other city boards like City Council, Planning Commission and the forthcoming Tourism Development Grant Review Committee.

“While the EDA is ready, willing and able to pitch in and help in any way that wayfinding becomes an economic development issue, we’re not really in a position to tell city planners how they should do city wayfinding,” EDA Chairman Adam Steely said. “Maybe what we can do is provide some priorities that we think are key to the business community for the staff.”

The board is also expected to seek $50,000 to go toward its Small Business Investment Grant Program, which offers a 50 percent matching grant up to $10,000 for interior and exterior improvements, upgrades and renovations to local shops and restaurants. Board members agreed that bolstering the grant program is will help the EDA enhance small businesses in the city, and Steely suggested broadening the scope of the grant program in future years.

“We might think about broadening that program and making it more city-wide, a little better funded with a more specific definition so that anybody in the city can come and say ‘I want to make these changes,’ and we can match them up to a certain dollar because it’s benefitting all of us,” he said.

Finally, the board is expected to ask for $250,000 to go toward its Demolition Grant Program, and $5,000 that would fund its Google Interior Virtual Tour Grant Program, which DeWitt called the EDA’s most popular grant program for small businesses in the city.

The program offers a 50 percent matching grant for a Google-certified photographer to take 360 degree photos of a store’s interior, which allows Google Maps and Google Street View users to take a virtual tour of the business.

Since the program was established in 2016, Economic Development Specialist Yuri Adams said, the EDA has awarded 43 Google grants and 15 businesses have participated in the past two fiscal years.

The EDA is expected to vote on a final list of funding requests at its January meeting, and will be presenting the requests to City Council later next year.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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