Meriden – The American Rescue Plan Committee voted 6-1 Monday to recommend expanding the commercial space upgrade program by $1.5 million to fund existing businesses.
The action follows an earlier resolution by the ARPA committee to set aside $5 million in federal funding to help entrepreneurs and landlords looking to spruce up their properties. The goal is to mostly eliminate vacancies in the city center.
City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest said the $5 million commercial space upgrade is expected to come online late this month or early next month. Applications are currently being finalized and will be posted on a website hosted by the Meriden Economic Development Corporation, the City of Meriden and the Mid-State Chamber of Commerce.
In September, the city council authorized the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to create a program to incentivize large vacant commercial buildings. A $5 million commercial space upgrade program will enable owners of vacant commercial space and commercial tenants to bring buildings into code or make other so-called “vanilla box” improvements.
But the plan does not include provisions for existing businesses that need assistance, city manager Timothy Coon told the ARPA committee. Two businesses, the Downtown Coffee Shop and a barber shop, have submitted requests for assistance that were filed Monday.
“After some discussions, we sought … additional funding to handle existing operations,” Kuhn said. “We’re looking at simplifying it further. Existing businesses will be identified based on the type of business we want and limited to infrastructure, capped at $100,000.”
The $1.5 million will come from remaining economic development funds, Coon said.
“I understand the need,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said. “I support the overall (premise). But I don’t support cannibalization of existing plans.”
Scarpatti points to Hartford, which began a similar commercial space upgrade program run by its chamber of commerce, but quickly realized there were gaps in existing businesses.
Scapati agreed that there was value in keeping the two programs separate, but acknowledged that questions remained about what the process would look like and how many applications it would handle. He proposed supporting a $1.5 million expansion, and Coon made a friendly amendment to the $100,000 cap request.
The committee agreed that additional eligibility parameters would be discussed and finalized at the next committee meeting on December 12. 12. Banquet talk. The city council eventually approved the expansion of the program.
Both projects will be managed by Meriden Economic Development Corp. Municipal Economic Development Bureau. The Commercial Space Upgrade Program requires applicants to provide a financial match. For spaces located in inner-city inner-city areas, the match rate was 25%.
Feist said he supported a small competition for the expanded program, but wanted to hear from other members. Applications will be reviewed by ARPA consultants and submitted to MEDCO and the City for final approval. He expects the rollout, distribution and approvals to take at least a year.
“This is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to do this,” Feist said. “We’re going to be as careful as possible.”
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