Council advances grants for biz expansion, shipyard


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Elizabeth City City Council moved forward two major economic development projects on Monday night, when they advanced grant applications for the “Project Clarence” business expansion and the purchase and cleanup of the Elizabeth City Shipyard.

They’re also seeking more state funding than previously known for both projects, based on reports from city officials.

In its regular session Monday, the council voted unanimously to commit to pay $25,000 as a local match if Project Clarence wins a $500,000 Building Reuse grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce. City officials revealed Project Clarence last month, explaining the company is proposing to create 90 good-paying jobs and invest more than $6 million. It’s also operating under a pseudonym while the expansion is tentative, they reported.

The city is also seeking $300,000 in a state “discretionary incentive,” in a new detail from City Manager Rich Olson and city-county economic developer Christian Lockamy. They previously reported the company was seeking a second grant, but not the amount, and that that grant would apply to all 90 jobs the company is proposing. The Building Reuse Grant only applies to the first 40, due to the different time frames the grants require, Lockamy also explained.

He also reported the discretionary incentive would come with a $100,000 local match. That’s in addition to the $25,000 local match the city would pay for the Building Reuse Grant.

The city is expecting decisions on the two grants for Project Clarence on Aug. 22, Lockamy and Olson also reported. The city’s local matches, $125,000 total, would likely be paid out of the city’s aviation fund, which is used for economic development, Olson added.

In a separate but still high-priority project, the council also scheduled a public hearing next month that’s necessary to submit a final application to the N.C. Division of Coastal Management for $200,000 towards the acquisition of the Elizabeth City Shipyard, which city officials have long deemed vital to developing the downtown waterfront. The coastal management grant is one of three the city wants for the shipyard — the most important being a $1 million earmark that Gov. Roy Cooper and state lawmakers put into the still-pending state budget.

In a finance committee meeting on Thursday, Olson said the city has a very good chance of getting the coastal management grant, based on being asked for a final application, as well as winning $350,000 from the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. That’s up from $250,000 previously proposed; the extra $100,000 is to plan the cleanup of the site, Olson wrote in an email.

However, he reiterated the city needed the earmark to pass, or even $550,000 in grants wouldn’t be enough.

“Without that $1 million, that project goes nowhere,” Olson said, although he added the city hasn’t settled on a purchase price yet for the shipyard. Its tax value is about $550,000, according to a city memo.

The state budget is in limbo because Cooper and Republican lawmakers are in a standoff over Medicaid expansion.