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City to Help Businesses to Improve Their Properties

The Council discussed commercial tenant program again at last Tuesday night’s worksession.

The City staff continues to work on guidelines for the commercial tenant improvement program, an incentive for improvement to commercial properties funded through a $75,000 grant from the State Department of Housing and Community Development. City staff has drafted a set of guidelines to establish eligibility and a structure for the program.

The Council reviewed these guidelines at the January 18, 2013 worksession and had questions about whether the applications would be received on a rolling basis or annually with a specific deadline. After speaking with the University of Maryland Small Business Development and Technology Center (SBDTC), the staff recommends taking applications on a rolling basis, because small businesses often have difficulty controlling the timing of improvements or when they are able to and interested to start up in a new location.

Although the staff originally proposed scoring the applications on a number scale from 0-100, because the applications will not be judged against each other, grants will be awarded to any applicant that meets certain criteria, as long as there is available funding. If an application is denied, the applicant has 30 days from the date of receipt of notice to submit a letter to the City Clerk requesting a review by the City Council, which would review the application within 30 days of receipt in an executive session.

As noted before, the program is meant to reimburse qualifying new or expanding tenants for leasehold improvements or build-out, which may include upgrades, repairs or replacements to HVAC, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, flooring, windows, doors, green initiatives, and interior demolition. The program will target businesses that College Park residents have, through the resident survey and other forums, indicated a preference for (e.g., full-service restaurants, coffee shops, and apparel stores), or that have been identified as market voids in the Route 1 Retail Market study. Some businesses (for example fast casual or fast-food restaurants, electronics stores or book stores) will be eligible on a case-by-case basis.

In order to be eligible, a business must be a locally-owned small business, with at least 50% local ownership and no more than 20 outlets, with no more than 5 outside of the Baltimore-Washington metopolitan area. Applicants must submit a business plan, financial information, and a pro-forma analysis, which will be reviewed by the City staff and staff of the Maryland Small Business Development and Technology Center (SBDTC). Applicants must also have at least a 3-year lease and must have the written consent of the property owner.

The City and SBDTC will work with the business owners to ensure that the grant recipients are prepared to operate successfully and utilize the grant funds most effectively. Priority will be given to target business types, expanding businesses, and businesses willing to cover at least 50% of the total improvement costs themselves. Businesses in any part of the City may apply, but businesses in Downtown College Park, the Berwyn Commercial District and the Hollywood Commercial District will be given priority and scored higher.

The maximum grant amount will be $25,000 and the grants will be capped at 50% of the total improvement costs. Grant funds will be disbursed upon inspection and approval of all completed improvements, receipt of invoices, and the issuance of a Use and Occupancy permit.

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