The city plans to expand the business program

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 promotion follows an earlier decision by the ARPA committee to allocate $5 million in federal funding to support entrepreneurs and landlords looking to revitalize their homes. The aim is to eliminate vacancies, especially in the city centre.

The $5 million commercial space upgrade program is expected to be operational later this month or early next month, the city’s economic development director Joseph Feest said. Applications are currently being finalized and posted on websites hosted by the Meriden Economic Development Corp., the City of Meriden and the Midstate Chamber of Commerce.

In September, the city council approved the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to establish a program to incentivize the reuse of vacant commercial buildings. The $5 million commercial space upgrade program would allow vacant commercial space owners and business tenants to upgrade the buildings or make other so-called “vanilla box” improvements.

However, the program did not include provisions for existing businesses in need of support, City Manager Timothy Coon told the ARPA committee. Two businesses, the Downtown Coffee Shop and a hair salon, have submitted requests for assistance, which were filed Monday.

“After some discussion, we are seeking… additional funding to just deal with existing businesses,” Coon said. “We tried to simplify it even further. Existing businesses would be identified based on the type of business we want and limited to infrastructure and capped at $100,000.”

The $1.5 million would come from leftover economic development funds, Coon said.

“I understand the demand,” Mayor Kevin Scarpati said. “I support the general (premise). But I am not in favor of cannibalizing the existing program.”

Scarpati pointed to Hartford, where the city embarked on a similar commercial space upgrade program run by its Chamber of Commerce, but soon realized there was a gap for existing businesses.

Scarpati agreed that there was value in separating the two programs, but acknowledged that questions remained about what the process would be like and how many applications it would handle. He offered support for the $1.5 million expansion, with Coon making a friendly change to cap applications at $100,000.

The committee agreed that other qualifying parameters would be discussed and defined at the next committee meeting on Dec. 12, Feest said. The city council finally approved the program expansion.

Both programs are funded by Meriden Economic Development Corp. and the City’s Economic Development Department. The Commercial Space Upgrade Program would require a funding match from applicants. For areas in the city center, the agreement is 25%.

Feest said he supports a small match for the expanded program but would like to hear from other members. Applications will be reviewed by the ARPA consultant and forwarded to MEDCO and the city for final approval. He expects the rollout, allocation and approvals to take at least a year.

“This is our first chance to get this right,” Feest said. “We will be as careful and cautious as possible.”

[email protected]: @Cconnbiz


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