TAMPA — The city’s efforts to help small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic received a $3 million boost Thursday from city council members.
Sitting as the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, council members unanimously approved spending accumulated interest in the city’s eight redevelopment areas’ accounts to funnel toward the city’s One Tampa relief effort, announced last week by Mayor Jane Castor.
The city had to hit pause on One Tampa to process a deluge of more than 10,000 calls that came in within 36 hours last week for individuals seeking rent, mortgage and utility relief.
Today’s action will benefit the One Tampa: Relief Now, Rise Together business relief fund, which targets small businesses.
This program will provide eligible businesses direct payments of up to $4,000 for rent or mortgage and up to $1,000 for utilities, according to a city news release. The payments are grants, not loans, and don’t have to be repaid.
The pre-application process closes at noon today.
So far, about 800 businesses have applied.
Businesses must be located within city limits and inside either redevelopment area boundaries or in low-income census tracts. The business must be defined as “critically impacted." Some examples include bars, restaurants and personal service providers. The firms must have been operating at least two years before Feb 1 and have revenues at or under $250,000 and no more than five employees.
The businesses must have experienced at least a 50 percent reduction in revenue because of the virus and have paid their 2019 business taxes and 2018 property taxes if applicable.
Carole Post, the city’s economic development and opportunity administrator, told council members that the city had listened to their input. That’s why the city reduced the eligibility requirement for businesses to have been operating from five years to two years, and changed the payments from from loans to grants.
Orlando Gudes, one of the council members who pushed for that lower threshold, said he would support sending redevelopment cash to One Tampa, but wanted East Tampa’s redevelopment area to have a separate program.
East Tampa often “falls through the cracks,” he said.
East Tampa community advisors would like a separate program with lower revenue and other requirements, he said.
Post said the Castor administration understood the needs in East Tampa, but if the East Tampa redevelopment agency wanted its own relief program it would have to administer itself. The money approved Thursday will be administered by the city.
Community advisors for the Downtown and Ybor City redevelopment areas said they were concerned that the eligibility requirements would exclude downtown restaurants and Ybor nightlife venues.
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Post said the city would continue to evaluate its efforts.
“Nothing is off the table," she said.
The city suggested using accumulated interest in redevelopment area accounts to avoid having to cut into existing projects and infrastructure plans.
Council members noted that many pre-pandemic projects citywide might have to be reevaluated as the city deals with lower revenues due to the pandemic.
“We really need to buckle ourselves in for the next few years,” council member Luis Viera said.
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