Patrick Scott had been thinking about Downtown as the place to open his sixth Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches.
A financial boost from the Downtown Investment Authority put the idea on the fast track.
Scott is one of six business owners to receive money through the DIA’s Retail Enhancement Grant program, which began in January. The program is a way to encourage companies to open or expand operations Downtown by partially subsidizing build-out costs.
The authority approved $28,000 to defray part of the $442,000 investment Scott made to open the sandwich shop at 207 N. Laura St.
“The grant sealed the deal,” he said.
Stacey Goldberg and her husband, Craig, expanded their Urban Grind Coffee Co., opening a second location at 45 W. Bay St. Their original location is in the Bank of America Tower.
She said they were considering opening a second coffee and pastry shop Downtown before the grant program was available. Being approved for the $17,000 grant made it easier.
“It’s good to have some help with the build-out expense,” she said of the financial help for the new site, which is next door to Daniel James Salon and adjacent to the building’s indoor courtyard.
Of the $750,000 budget by DIA, six grants totaling $241,125 have been approved and three pending requests are seeking $111,080. That leaves an unrequested balance of $397,795.
Applicants go through a comprehensive evaluation process. They must provide a business plan and show how the grant would help open a business that would create jobs in the urban core.
Recipients do not receive the funds until they meet the performance requirements in their agreement. Requirements vary from grant to grant, but include the business’s capital investment in Downtown and the number of full-time jobs created and sustained.
For example, the grant application from Jimmy John’s specified Scott would invest $442,601 to open the restaurant, that 23 full- and part-time jobs would be created and the restaurant would be open Monday-Saturday and on Sunday during Downtown events.
Annual reviews will be conducted to ensure continued compliance. Grant recipients are required to stay in business at the location for at least five years or the grant must be paid back on a 20 percent per year pro-rated basis.
“The city is always protected,” said Tom Daly, Downtown real estate analyst with the authority.
Some new potential Downtown business owners have decided not to apply for a grant after they learned of the documentation and planning requirements.
“It’s designed to weed out people who don’t know all they need to know,” said Jim Klement, redevelopment coordinator.
He said a benefit for the city that wasn’t consciously designed into the program is becoming apparent as the grant recipients open their businesses or prepare to do so.
The Elks Building now has restrooms in the corner suite that weren’t there before Jimmy John’s opened.
Super Food & Brew, the brickand-mortar expansion of Super Food Truck, is building out a restaurant, tap room and grocery store at 11 E. Forsyth St. with the aid of a $49,837 grant. When the business opens, there will be a new kitchen exhaust system that wasn’t there when the space was occupied by Starbucks.
Another grant recipient, Jersey Mike’s Subs in SunTrust Tower, has installed an ADA ramp. A building permit for the project was recently approved and build-out should soon begin.
“They are improving the Downtown small business infrastructure,” said Klement.
The program also is reaping a benefit that one of the latest grant recipients said marks a major change in doing business Downtown.
Jerry Ewais opened a sandwich shop 15 years ago at 128 E. Adams St. A few years later, he expanded his Zodiac Bar & Grill operation and moved into the corner space at Adams and Hogan streets.
In 2011, he moved again to the present location at 118 W. Adams St. in the Schultz Building.
He’s approved for an $18,288 grant to remodel the lounge area and install a new sign on the building.
Ewais said in the 15 years he’s been in business Downtown, this is the first time the city has been able to offer financial assistance when he wanted to expand.
Being a grant recipient also paid a dividend he collected before the renovation can begin.
“Getting the building permits was much easier this time. There was a lot less bureaucracy,” Ewais said. “I think it’s because I’m part of the DIA program.”
Early signs of success
The Downtown Investment Authority’s Retail Enhancement Program started in January with a $750,000 budget. Six grants have been approved, with three applications pending. The unrequested balance in the fund is $397,795.
Urban Grind: $17,000
Jimmy John’s Subs: $28,000
120 E. Forsyth: $100,000
Jersey Mike’s Subs: $28,000
Super Food and Brew: $49,837
Zodiac Grill: $18,288
Chamblin’s Uptown: $37,560
Wine Decadence: $33,520
Daniel James Salon: $40,000