Hopewell Council OKs Grants for Businesses

By Caitlin Davis, The Hopewell News

HOPEWELL — Business owners and operators in the city will soon have a chance to apply for a piece of a $20,000 grant to improve the interior or exterior of their business. The “Commercial Business Grant Program,” also known as the “Legacy Business Pilot Program,” was approved by City Council last month, with changes that could be forthcoming, and will be an incentive to continue and beautify the city. 

Charlie Dane, assistant city manager, along with Debbie Randolph, chairman of the Economic Development Authority, presented the program to members of council at the June 9 meeting. The program, drafted by members of city staff and the EDA, has been an idea of council for a while. The program was established “in the interest of furthering the economic prosperity of our city and our business owners,” a draft states. 

The grant is for business owners looking to make external or internal improvements and provide an overall benefit to Hopewell, Dane said. A deadline for applications will be set and advertised, he said, and a panel will judge the applications and distribute the $20,000. 

The eligibility for applicants, some of which was discussed and changed at the meeting, includes a business that is located in one of the designated business zones in the city, the business must be in operation for a minimum of five years, and the business can be defined as retail, discount store, grocery store, auto parts, or service, accountant, attorney or banking. 

Councilor Jackie Shornak expressed concern over the eligibility requirements, saying that when the program was originally discussed, it was meant for “mom and pop” instead of larger businesses. 

“I just don’t think of giving it to a person that has lots of money that owns a building that just won’t do anything to the building,” she said. “And then we’re going to hand them over money. I just have an issue with that.” 

Dane addressed the concerns, noting that if the tenants are long-term business owners or long-term tenants of the building, they should not be excluded from submitting an application, especially if the grant could help further the operation of the business and enhance the tax base for the city. 

“The ones who need it the most who get an impact ought to be the ones who get the money but we don’t know who’s going to submit for the money,” Dane said, adding that there’s a possibility that none of the “mom and pop” stores could submit applications for the grant. 

Due to another concern of the council, a matching grant may be required based on the application submitted, a change that was not previously drafted in the program. 

Some of the guidelines for the program include that the “application must come from the business owner, but the applicant may either own or rent the property where the business is located.” The committee, which will oversee and judge applications, will consist of one city staff member, two local business people, one Chamber of Commerce member, and one member of the EDA. 

When applying for a portion of the grant, the requests have to be more than $500 and not exceed $10,000. Applicants also must be current on taxes in the city and the applicant “must gain all applicable building and trade permits before commencing work,” with another criteria being the work being completed within 12 months of the grant being awarded. 

Improvements, as defined by the program, must be permanent and the improvement “should stay with the structure.” Examples that were outlined include, lighting, flooring, painting, windows, counters and walls, and an air ventilation system. Improvements that were excluded, but “not limited to” tables, chairs, removable floor covering, landscaping and signage. 

When the program was first discussed and outlined by council, a business had to be in operation for 20 years or more to be eligible for the grant. Upon further review by the EDA and city staff members, 20 years was a difficult criteria to establish. 

“I think one of the issues that we had with 20 year when we first started to review this was that there weren’t a lot of businesses that were in need, being in business for 20 years, so we wanted to shorten that,” Randolph said. 

The EDA submitted the requirement of one year in operations and during the vote at the council meeting, it was changed to five years. Prior to the vote, Dane explained that five years was more of a realistic timeframe. 

“If somebody’s been in business for 20 years they probably are doing OK to survive 20 years,” he said. “Most businesses fail in the first couple of years to five or 10 years. … The failure rate for newer businesses is much greater. If somebody’s been in business for 20 years, they’re probably a little more financially able than someone who’s been there four, five or six years.” 

The program, which was approved and passed by a motion of 4-2, with Mayor Brenda Pelham and Councilor Anthony Zevgolis giving the dissenting votes, will run for a year and then be reviewed at the end of that time, with council deciding if it is to be reinstated, what changes need to be made, and if it will be funded again. 

“Really what this program is about is to support our businesses so they can be successful and we as a community can be successful,” Dane said. 

Though no official announcement or deadline has been provided, Dane stated during the meeting that the grant will be possibly be awarded around September or October.