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Decatur Downtown Development Authority considering new business grant programs

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Decatur Downtown Development Authority considering new business grant programs

The Decatur Downtown Development Authority discussed creating two new grant programs to support local businesses during its meeting on Oct. 13, 2023, at City Hall. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur Downtown Development Authority, at its Oct. 13 meeting, discussed creating a commercial buildout improvement grant program and a marketing and digital connectivity grant program to support local businesses with improving their buildings and marketing efforts.

The DDA is considering allocating $75,000 to the commercial buildout improvement grant program and $25,000 to the marketing and digital connectivity grant program. The DDA previously established the commercial facade grant program and has seen applications dwindle. The facade improvement grant is still being offered quarterly.

“According to our business development manager, we have seen a drop in our commercial facade improvement grant indicating that the need for external improvements has been largely met, and it’s time to shift our focus inward,” Economic Development Intern Austin Thomas said.

The commercial buildout improvement grant aims to help businesses improve the inside of the buildings.

“This grant program will offer a maximum of $10,000 to both food and non-food related businesses to improve any internal aspects to their buildings along with opening this incentive to new and existing businesses. Eligible projects will include wall repairs, fire alarms, HVAC systems, plumbing and grease traps,” Thomas said.

Businesses would be reimbursed in the form of a grant and the program would be a matching grant, so 75% of the project would be reimbursed through the grant, up to $10,000, and the applicant would incur 25% of the expenses. The project would have to begin within six months of grant approval and be completed within 18 months of grant approval, Thomas wrote in a memo.

Thomas recommended launching the grant as a pilot program to allow the city to adjust and meet the needs of the business community.

Some businesses in Decatur lease space from a building owner, and the DDA has raised concerns when it comes to grant programs about whether some repairs would be the responsibility of the building owner rather than the business owner.

“I think that’s always a danger and that’s something I’ve worried about too about these programs that there is a contractual arrangement between the tenant and the landlord and if these items fall into deferred maintenance, whichever party it’s allocated to, that they’ve chosen not to move forward with, then at some point are we relieving them of their responsibilities,” DDA Vice Chair Noah Peeters said.

With the facade improvement grant, where the responsibility lies has been evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ve had two applicants that when we got the application and started digging in further, it was a lease issue, and it was who should be the proper person. We’ve had to work through those and either reformat the application,” DDA Attorney Kyle Williams said.

Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill added that the program would be open for business owners and commercial property owners.

“The majority of the time when we’re seeing permits come through, it is up to the business owner to make those necessary upgrades to meet building codes. A lot of times it’s also ADA compliance, [like] ADA compliant bathrooms,” Threadgill said.

The marketing and digital connectivity grant program aims to improve businesses’ digital marketing presence by supporting the design and production of digital content and marketing materials, Thomas wrote in a memo.

A business could receive a maximum of $2,500. Similar to the commercial build-out improvement grant, businesses would incur 25% of the expenses and be reimbursed for $75% of the project expenses. The project would have to start within six months of grant approval and be completed within 12 months of grant approval.

“Eligible projects will include the design and production of marketing materials and content along with website design, web promotions, brand and logo design as well,” Thomas said during the DDA meeting.

He added that “there has been an expressed need for more marketing support by the city. I believe this grant program could meet that need ensuring that our businesses have the tools they need to thrive, along with launching this as a pilot program to meet the needs of our business community as well as opening this program to new and existing businesses,” Thomas said.

Peeters suggested looking into creating a unified marketing program to identify a marketing business to be a service provider to local businesses “so that not only are we getting some economies of scale of what we’re purchasing, but we’re also getting some consistency and maybe coordination on those campaigns,” he said.

Having all three grant programs could help the city attract new businesses.

“Having a facade grant, having the buildout grant, and having the marketing grant it’s also…a tool to welcome new businesses into the city and give them an opp because that build-out cost is very expensive when they’re getting started and opening a business. I think as we start to offer something that’s more of a package, it’s going to make us more attractive as a city to bring in new businesses,” Business Development Manager Shirley Baylis said.

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