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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Apr. 7, 202002:40 PM EST

Curry signs small business loan program, keeps beaches closed

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Mayor says a curfew is possible to curb violence.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry signed a small business relief loan and grant program partnership with VyStar Credit Union into law April 7, opening a local financial safety net for businesses losing revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

City Council unanimously approved Ordinance 2020-0201 on April 6, creating a $26 million, six-year COVID-19 Small Business Relief Employee Retention Grant Program.

Jacksonville-based VyStar will make a $50 million loan pool available in its COVID-19 Small Business Relief Loan Program.

The ordinance includes an initial $9 million from the city’s general fund balance to establish the grants. 

Curry signed the bill during a virtual news conference with reporters, broadcast live on local TV news outlets. 

VyStar will offer qualifying small businesses a fixed 5.99% interest rate on loans up to $100,000, according to the program agreement attached to the bill.

When asked by a reporter if the city would consider expanding the program beyond the $50 million pool or removing the $100,000 loan cap, Curry said that “every option is always on the table.”

Curry said the focus of the program is to help businesses retain employees and possibly rehire laid-off workers.

“The goal now is to deploy this, get the cash moving quickly and if we need to reevaluate at that time and see if there’s additional help that we can provide in an effective way,” Curry said. “I’m always open to solutions.”

Curry said VyStar’s loan program infrastructure is running and prepared for what is expected by the credit union to be several thousand loan requests.

The mayor said the city would work with VyStar to expand resources should the credit union be overwhelmed with applications. 

The city will provide an immediate $1,000 grant to the first 3,000 businesses approved for the loan, as well as all interest payments for the first year. 

The city will offer grants to pay a portion of the loan interest and principal in the subsequent five years, based on the applicant’s employee retention rates.

VyStar will administer the loan program and direct the application process. Businesses can apply for the program at vystarcu.org/coronavirus. 

Beaches staying closed

After receiving public requests and pressure to reopen Duval County beaches, Curry said that he and the mayors of the three Beaches communities will keep them closed.

“If we had the resources to control people getting on the beach and continually moving and practicing social distancing, it would be a reasonable option,” Curry said. “But we don’t have the resources to police it.” 

He added that the likelihood of people coming from outside Duval County to “flood our beaches is just not a risk we’re willing to take.”

Curry said his administration reevaluates COVID-19 executive orders daily to assess if the mandates are still necessary, should be loosened or expanded. 

 “I don’t foresee the beaches reopening this week,” he said.

The beaches in Duval County have been shut down since March 20, when Curry issued an executive order mandating their closure to slow the community spread of COVID-19.

Daily Record news partners News4Jax.com reported April 7 that Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham sees total closure of the beach as necessary for public safety, and the mayors of Atlantic and Neptune Beach agree.

A petition in St. Johns County to reopen the beaches for surfers and recreation at limited hours has gone unacknowledged by St. Johns County Commissioner Hunter Conrad, News4Jax reported.

The push follows Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s recent executive order removing local county government’s authority to close the beaches, prompting the Glynn County Commission to reopen its shores April 3 for exercise purposes but still banning chairs, tents and umbrellas. 

Curfew in Duval?

Curry said a curfew because of COVID-19 and continued violent crime in Jacksonville is possible. 

The mayor and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said they continue to discuss if a curfew would be effective in curbing violence while law enforcement uses resources in the city’s COVID-19 response.

Curry raised the prospect of a curfew after addressing the April 6 shooting death of a 5-year-old girl in North Jacksonville. 

Kearria Attison and her 4-year-old sister, Paris West, were sitting in a car with their mother outside a convenience store on Monaco Drive at De Paul Drive just after 4 p.m. when she was shot in crossfire during a dispute, News4Jax reported. 

“It’s just tiresome folks,” Curry said.
 

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