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Biz owners seek $37K in city grants

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Alvan Overton, of the “Bout Thyme” kitchen and bakery, is applying for a city Business Improvement Grant to turn an empty rail car on the former train station property into a professional kitchen.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Local entrepreneurs are asking for more than $37,000 in Business Improvement Grants from the city of Elizabeth City.

Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. Executive Director Deborah Malenfant reported Tuesday that she and city staff are now reviewing four applications submitted in the city’s first round of BIG program funding.

BIG, formerly the Downtown Improvement Grant program, helps pay for lasting fixes to buildings to support or create businesses. It’s open to businesses citywide — though $60,000 of its $80,000 in total funding is for downtown businesses — and offers grants of as much as $20,000 each. Business owners must match the city’s grant at least dollar for dollar.

Dean Schaan is seeking the largest single grant, $20,000, to help pay for improvements to the former Hurdle Hardware building at 112 N. Water Street. As Malenfant and Schaan have previously said, Schaan is looking to purchase and improve the property to create a microbrewery. He had previously proposed developing the microbrewery across the street from Hurdle Hardware, at 113 N. Water Street, but as he explained in a recent interview, he's now interested in the potential of the larger space.

Schaan is proposing to apply the $20,000 toward “complete interior and exterior renovation for brewery operations,” according to Malenfant. Schaan’s total project would cost $500,000, she said, noting that was still only a portion of the $1.5 million or more he's estimated will be needed to restore the former hardware store building.

George Jackson also submitted an application for a $10,000 grant for “general interior upgrades/repairs and facade improvements” to 200 N. Poindexter Street and 601 E. Colonial Avevue, the space formerly used by Thumpers Bar and Grill. Thumpers vacated the space two years ago, and Malenfant said Jackson's work is intended to help attract a tenant.

Bonita Jones also applied for a grant of $3,603, covering half the cost of repairing and replacing flooring at her Stella's II cafe on 516 McMorrine Street. Malenfant said Jones needs to fix the floor before she can open her cafe.

Alvan Overton, of the “Bout Thyme” kitchen and bakery, is also applying for a grant to create an “incubator kitchen,” Malenfant said. She said Overton learned about the grant program right before the application deadline, and so is still working to get quotes for his project's cost.

Malenfant believes Overton has a “great idea,” she said. Bout Thyme operates in the former train station at 109 S. Hughes Boulevard. Overton is looking to turn an empty rail car on the property into a professional kitchen that would be available to chefs, caterers, aspiring restaurateurs and others who aren't ready or able to buy their own kitchen, she said.

Malenfant said she and city staff still need to review and score the applications, which she hoped would be ready for presentation to City Council for potential grant awards later this month.

Notably, the four grant applications are the first the city has received since City Council revamped and renamed the former DIG Program this summer. The major change this year is that businesses outside the downtown are immediately eligible for funding. Previously, they had to wait until the spring to apply for any grant funds not claimed by downtown businesses.

However, only $20,000 total is available this year for non-downtown businesses. If Overton asks for maximum grant of $20,000, that could mean there would not be enough money for both his project and Jones'.

Asked about that, Malenfant said that city staff would have to make a decision about whether Jones’ business could be considered a downtown business, making her eligible to receive funds from the larger pool of $60,000 in grant funds.

Jones' business is not in the city's central business district but is part of the city's municipal service district, Malenfant said, meaning Jones pays additional taxes typically paid by downtown business owners to receive greater city services.

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