More financial help for businesses in the works as city enters next reopening phase

Much of the downtown stretch of Broad Street remains boarded up after a night of protests led to vandalism two weeks ago.

As the city prepares to enter its next phase of reopening on Friday, Richmond businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and those damaged in the wake of recent protests downtown, are set to have more options for financial assistance in coming weeks.

In meetings on Monday, the city’s economic development director updated Richmond City Council on efforts that city government has made thus far to assist businesses and nonprofits impacted by the pandemic, as well as programs in development to provide further assistance.

Among the latter are a $3 million grant program for businesses affected by the economic shutdown, using federal CARES Act dollars. Also in the works are $500,000 in grants from the city’s similarly named, but separate, CARE program, to help downtown businesses that sustained damage from recent rioting.

While a timeline for the grants has yet to be announced, Economic Development Director Leonard Sledge said he’s aiming to roll out both programs by the end of this month.

A screenshot from Monday’s virtual meetings.

Last week, council members requested a grant program specifically to help businesses that were damaged or forced to close in the aftermath of the recent protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Some council members had asked for assistance specifically for restaurants, which would be eligible for a specific allotment of the $3 million grant program that’s in development. The program would be funded using a portion of the $21.1 million that Richmond was awarded in federal CARES Act funding.

Sledge said those grants would be awarded in allotments ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 and divvied up three ways, with $1 million designated for minority-owned businesses and minority-based nonprofits; $1 million for so-called microbusinesses, and small businesses and nonprofits; and $1 million for restaurants.

Grants would be restricted to businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees and annual revenues prepandemic of less than $5 million. Applicants with 10 or fewer active employees working 35 hours or more weekly would be eligible for $10,000 grants. Those with 11-25 employees could get up to $12,500, and those with 26-50 could get up to $15,000.

The grants could be used to cover reimbursable expenses such as employee wages, cost of benefits, commercial rent and utilities, and day-to-day working capital. Sledge said the city anticipates high demand for the grants and is in talks with tech platforms to help process applications.

The city also is in talks with local delivery companies to see how meal delivery service for Richmond restaurants could be expanded as a lower-cost alternative to national food delivery service platforms. Referring to a recent BizSense report, Sledge said the city is exploring how it can collaborate with companies to give restaurants more delivery options.

Help for vandalized businesses

To help businesses affected by the protest aftermath, Sledge said the city has identified $500,000 in funding from the Economic Development Authority’s CARE (Commercial Area Revitalization Effort) program. Those funds would be used to award grants of up to $10,000 to help impacted businesses, with at least half going to minority-owned businesses and property owners.

Quirk Hotel was among businesses that sustained damage after protests last week.

The grants could be used to reimburse businesses for insurance deductible costs, graffiti removal, repairs or replacements to damaged windows, facades and signs, and replacement or reimbursement of stolen inventory, among other costs, Sledge said.

The grant programs add to other efforts the city has made since March to help businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Sledge summarized those efforts in his presentation to council, providing specifics on how those have performed to date.

With the city’s $1 million disaster loan program, formally called the Richmond Small Business Disaster Loan Program (COVID-19), Sledge said nearly $855,000 over 44 loans had been approved to date, with about $125,000 disbursed and $145,000 still available. Of 68 applications received, 14 remain pending and seven were denied due to eligibility requirements.

Of the 44 loans approved, 14 percent of those were restaurants, 11 percent were tourism-related businesses, 11 percent were professional services, 9 percent were breweries or distilleries, 9 percent were retail sales, and another 9 percent were healthcare or fitness businesses. Event services made up 7 percent, while commercial cleaning and janitorial services made up 5 percent, and restaurant equipment providers made up 5 percent.

Another program that was targeted to restaurants specifically was a meals purchasing program to feed the city’s first responders. That program, which ends today (June 10), spent nearly $118,000 on about 10,000 meals that were purchased from 54 approved restaurants between April 27 and May 23, the most recent data available.

A loan payment deferral program allowed for the deferral of $676,000 in interest payments that would have been due in August. Sledge said those deferrals will result in additional interest costs of $151,751 that will be repaid to the city over a 19-year period, providing additional capital. Twenty-two borrowers participated in the program.

Other efforts have included a tax amnesty program, the ForwardRVA initiative to assist businesses with reopening, webinars and assistance for other available grants and loan programs, and preparations for expanded outdoor dining and pedestrian access.

Sledge said 31 restaurants have expressed interest in the latter, with five outdoor-dining encroachment permit applications received and three approved. He said 16 restaurants have expressed interest in expanded dining in private parking lots.

City entering Phase Two

Such moves will be allowable when the city enters Phase Two of the state’s Forward Virginia reopening plan this Friday. Under the phase’s guidelines, restaurants also will be allowed 50 percent indoor dining capacity, though bar seating will remain closed.

Fitness centers will be able to open indoor facilities at 30 percent capacity, and recreation and entertainment venues that do not involve shared equipment will be openable with restrictions. Non-essential brick-and-mortar retailers must limit occupancy to half-capacity. Facial masks and social distancing remain encouraged.

Swimming pools can open for lap swimming, diving, exercise and instruction, but congregational areas must remain closed. Personal care and grooming businesses must operate by appointment only, with no more than two appointments occurring at a time. Places of worship are limited to 50 percent capacity, with distanced seating required.

The city is entering Phase Two weeks after its surrounding counties and most of the state, following delayed openings requested by Mayor Levar Stoney in light of coronavirus case data. Similar delays were approved for certain localities in Northern Virginia and elsewhere in the state.

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Knut LaVine
Knut LaVine
3 months ago

What ever happened to the City $50,000 bar/restaurant reimbursement program with Feed More when Mayor Stoney at the last minute delayed phase 1 reopening? Amazing how the local media is a lap dog for the local administration. What free press acting as the public’s watchdog?