The Community Redevelopment Agency is now offering a $15,000 matching grant for food-related businesses as an expansion of its Incentive Grant Program.
In order to help Plant City’s downtown core blossom the Community Redevelopment Agency has long offered an Incentive Grant Program to encourage businesses to choose downtown as their new home.
The financial incentives could be used for interior build-out assistance with a $10,000 matching grant, homeowner down payment assistance with a $5,000 grant and homeowner facade and site improvement with a $5,000 matching grant. Now the deal is even sweeter with the addition of a $15,000 matching grant for food-related businesses.
“I hope that this is so successful that we have to reallocate funds from the others,” Mayor Rick Lott said.
The new addition is available for any new or expanding eligible businesses that want to add more food options into the downtown core. The grant is for physical renovations to buildings, which can include equipments and furnishings, utility connections, carpeting, electrical, plumbing and more.
Any business that sells food or beverages ranging from sit-down restaurants to bakeries and coffee shops to produce markets or health food stores all fit the bill. Priority will be given to the projects that convert other retail uses into restaurants.
If an existing and eligible business is hoping to expand it too can use the grant for any of the above stated as well as for adding additional restaurant equipment.
The purpose of the new grant is to provide assistance to establish a more diverse mix of food-related businesses downtown, with hope many of those would expand their hours of operation beyond 5 p.m.
It’s a one-to-one matching grant that goes up to $15,000 per building and can be used to help business occupants with up to 50 percent of the total project costs. Lott added that one of the benefits of CRA Incentive Grant Program is eligible businesses can potentially access more than one grant at a time, creating a combined superpower of support from the CRA.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” Commissioner Bill Dodson said. “I think it’s kind of a spinoff of what we were doing with the community development block grant funds, if I’m correct in saying that. I think that’s where we allocated improvement grant money available and it was quickly used up. The chamber of commerce was one of the first to grab it and grow downtown. It was a perfect outcome with that.”
Details of the new matching grant will be available on the city’s website and social media for those wanting to go shopping for available space in the downtown core. Lott said this was a concept they had last summer, but they needed to work out the details of how to set up the perfect matching program.
City Manager Bill McDaniel said the city as a whole wants to see more of that type of activity downtown. Echoing the sentiments of many of the commissioners he said people need to come to the heart of Plant City and want to stay for a while.
The hope is the change will help downtown Plant City mimic the renaissance communities like Lakeland and Winter Park are seeing. Even Ybor has a thriving downtown due to its award-winning restaurants and cult-followed coffee shops.
If people walk through a downtown and see a variety of diverse restaurants, bakeries, food stores and cafes they’re more likely to linger, which in turn helps other local businesses thrive. Instead of driving downtown to go to one specific location and then leave the hope is people will start to stroll the sidewalks and get involved with all of the gems downtown has to offer.
With its unanimous approval last week, the grant is now open to applicants. The timing, Lott said, couldn’t be more perfect now that the city has altered its alcohol ordinance to be more friendly to economic growth and is bracing itself for the creation of the long awaited Midtown district.
“I think the problem we’ll have right now is managing a stampede of the, let’s say, understated level of interest we will have right now,” McDaniel said. “We’re going to have people taking advantage of this by the end of the week. The word is out.”