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Grant to help reopen Stella's II

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, November 17, 2017

City Council awarded a roughly $4,700 grant on Monday to help reopen Stella's II cafe on McMorrine Street.

Council voted to award a Business Improvement Grant to Bonita Jones, owner of Stella's II at 516 S. McMorrine Street. The grant will cover half of Jones’ $9,304 cost for floor repair and replacement, installation of new doors and weatherization of the small, single-story structure.

Jones briefly opened the business this spring, but an unsafe, badly cracked floor forced her to close it shortly afterward, according to a city report. Jones applied to the city's BIG Program more than two months ago, but consideration of her request was delayed.

The problem was that Jones' initial project was too small to meet BIG funding criteria, based on reports from Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. Executive Director Deborah Malenfant. In city meetings last month, Malenfant explained Jones first asked for help fixing her floor. That meant she only asked for a grant of about $3,600.

That project scored too few points on the city's grant rubric to be considered for funding. Jones’ project scored 30 points, but City Council has set 40 points as the minimum for it to considering funding.

To earn more points, Jones agreed to more improvements. She proposed weatherizing the building and installing new doors, picking up points for “Life Safety Code Compliance” and exterior aesthetics, Malenfant said in an interview. That raised Jones’ project score to 43.

Jones has also proposed creating two jobs; those were factored into both her initial and final project scores.

Prior to the meeting, Jones said she hopes to reopen within a couple weeks, but hasn’t set a firm date yet. She said she still envisions her store offering a positive place for teens to hang out and get a bite to eat. It’ll be a place where they can buy hot dogs, sandwiches and other snacks while watching TV, she said.

However, she also hopes Stella’s II can offer tutoring and, down the road, other youth events.

“I think the building has a lot of possibility,” she said.

Jones' grant is the first grant under the BIG Program the city has awarded to a non-downtown business. Council retooled the former Downtown Improvement Grant Program to give non-downtown businesses a better shot at getting funding. The DIG Program distributed up to $80,000 a year in grants. The BIG Program divided that up to make $60,000 available downtown and $20,000 available to the rest of the city.

Malenfant also said Monday the city has received no additional grant applications, though some people have inquired about them. The next application deadline is Dec. 31, she noted.

The city has also awarded two BIGs downtown, including $20,000 to Dean Schaan, Matt Wood and other owners of a proposed microbrewery on Water Street and $11,132 to George Jackson for the former Thumper's Bar and Grill at the intersection of Poindexter Street and Colonial Avenue.

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