MERIDEN – The American Rescue Plan Act Committee voted 6-1 on Monday to recommend expanding the commercial space upgrade program by $1.5 million to fund existing businesses.
The action follows an earlier ARPA Committee resolution to allocate $5 million in federal funding to assist business owners and landowners who wish to beautify their properties. The aim is to eliminate vacancies mainly in the city centre.
The $5 million retail space upgrade program is expected to go live later this month or early next month, City Economic Development Director Joseph Feest said. Applications are currently in the final stages and will be posted on websites hosted by Meriden Economic Development Corp., the City of Meriden and the Midstate Chamber of Commerce.
In September, the city council authorized the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to establish a program to incentivize the reuse of vacant commercial buildings. The $5 million retail space upgrade program would allow vacant retail space owners and corporate tenants to bring buildings up to code or make other so-called “vanilla box” improvements.
But the program did not include provisions for existing businesses in need of assistance, City Manager Timothy Coon told the ARPA Committee. Two businesses, the Downtown Coffee Shop and a barber shop filed for service claims which were filed on Monday.
“After some discussions, we are looking for … additional funding to deal with existing businesses only,” Coon said. “We tried to simplify it further. Existing businesses would be identified by the type of business we want and limited to infrastructure and set a limit of $100,000.”
The $1.5 million would come from remaining economic development funds, Coon said.
“I understand the request,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said. “I support the general (foreword). But I’m not in favor of cannibalizing the existing program.”
Scarpati pointed to Hartford, where the city undertook a similar retail space renovation program run by its chamber of commerce, but soon realized there was a vacuum for existing businesses.
Scarpati agreed that it’s helpful to separate the two programs, but acknowledged questions remained about what the process would look like and how many applications it would handle. Lui motioned to support the $1.5 million expansion, with Coon making an amicable amendment to limit claims to $100,000.
The committee agreed that other qualifying parameters would be discussed and finalized at the next committee meeting on Dec. 12, Feest said. The City Council has final approval on the expansion of the program.
Both programs will be administered by Meriden Economic Development Corp. and the city’s Department of Economic Development. The commercial space upgrade program would require a funding match from applicants. For spaces located in the historic center, the match would be 25%.
Feest said he supports a small match for the expanded program but wants to hear from other members. Applications will be reviewed by the ARPA consultant and referred to MEDCO and the city for final approval. You expect launch, assignment and approvals to take at least a year.
“This is our first chance to get it right,” Feest said. “We will be as careful and cautious as possible.”
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