EDA finalizes funding requests for upcoming fiscal year

Staff writer

The Williamsburg Economic Development Authority finalized a $370,000 funding request to submit to the city for consideration at its monthly meeting Thursday.

The final request marks a $70,000 reduction from a draft funding request of $440,000 presented at last month’s meeting. That’s because board chairman Adam Steely suggested the board forgo individual funding requests going toward grant programs for new and existing businesses in the city.

Instead, he said, the board would fund these programs using the undesignated funds it has accumulated through bond fees, tax incentives and interest earnings. The EDA’s undesignated funds totaled $223,621 as of its Dec. 31, 2018, financial statement.

The funds being requested by the EDA for the upcoming fiscal year include $110,000 in operational costs, $250,000 to fund its demolition grant program and $10,000 in funding for the Greater Williamsburg Partnership.

Steely said the change would allow the EDA greater flexibility than in years past.

“What we thought we would do in this year’s letter is simplify our request process a little bit and take on some of the burden of what we’re suggesting might be new programs with our unrestricted funds, rather than asking City Council to appropriate that money,” Steely said.

The $110,000 operating budget would fund ongoing EDA efforts including new business recruitment efforts, the Launchpad regional business incubator and its monthly business roundtable lunches. In order to fund initiativessuch as its Small Business Investment Grant Program and Google Interior Virtual Tour Grant Program, the board would discuss grant applications at future meetings and release funds from the $223,621 total undesignated balance at its discretion.

“That would allow us internally to decide how much of that money should go to grant programs and how much should go to other projects,” Steely said. “We have a large reserve, we don’t have a plan for it, and it’s difficult to ask for more money when we don’t have a plan for the money that we already have.”

The Small Business Investment Grant Program offers a 50 percent matching grant up to $10,000 for exterior improvements to local shops and restaurants. Similarly, the Google Interior Virtual Tour Grant 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 undesignated balance could also be used to fund the EDA’s proposed downtown business association, Steely said.

The funding request letter now will go to city finance director Barbara Dameron, which will then be passed onto City Council for approval later this year as it begins crafting a city budget for the fiscal year 2020.

Also at the meeting, the board unanimously appointed Steely to serve as the EDA’s representative on the newly formed Tourism Development Fund Review Committee. The group will establish an application process through which local entities can apply for a portion of SB 942 funds that the city collects meant to drive local tourism. The committee will then review funding requests, and pass applications onto City Council for final approval.

Other committee members include Amber Ox Public House co-owner Andrew Voss, Chris Caracci, Craig Reeves, Sally Wolfe and former Vice Mayor Scott Foster.

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

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