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City opens up grants to help legacy businesses hit hard by Covid-19

Friday, February 12, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

A new city program set to go live next week will give long-running hospitality businesses throughout the city another possible source of Covid-19 relief.

The first round of the Legacy Business Relief Grant, which was designed to help restaurants, bars, and arts and music venues that have been open for 20 years, will offer up to $20,000 per business.

The application period for the grants opens Feb. 16, with the first wave of recipients to be determined after the March 10 cutoff. Winners from that pool will be able to apply for a second round of $140,000 in additional aid that will be allocated in installments of up to $40,000 per month.

City Council created the $5 million aid program last year as part of the $15 million Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors (SAVES) package, which was funded through budget reserves. A December resolution directed city staffers to find a way to help the small businesses devastated by the pandemic that have managed to become a part of the city’s cultural fabric through two decades or more of operation.

“Legacy businesses, for the purpose of this program, is designated as businesses that have been in Austin for 20-plus years … from restaurants to bars to live music venues, they’ve been part of the cultural heritage and historic fabric of what Austin has to offer,” said Nicole Klepadlo, redevelopment project manager for the Economic Development Department. “They’re the strong, institutional businesses that have helped promote the culture of neighborhoods.”

A webinar Tuesday will provide directions on how to apply, and the city has enlisted PeopleFund to administer the program, including giving assistance to applicants. Those who are selected to receive the first round of funding will have to complete a technical assistance evaluation with Business & Community Lenders of Texas, with the possibility of coaching, business planning and help accessing additional financial resources.

Veronica Briseño, the city’s economic recovery officer, said the application process will give the city a look at how many legacy businesses are currently operating. Once that number is determined, plans will be made to determine how to best select recipients for the second round of funding.

Because the program is new, “we’re going to see how many applications we get,” she said. “If we get too large a number for the $5 million fund, we want to make sure we don’t have all the $20,000 go out the door and then not have enough for the second phase of the program.”

While the city has in the past produced analysis of cultural landmarks and assets, Briseño said there was no comprehensive data set available while designing the program to determine the possible pool of recipients.

“In theory you would imagine the legacy businesses to be more in the urban core than the outer areas,” she said. “That would be my guess, especially for the small businesses in those kinds of industries. Everything we’ve learned through Covid is that we need more data for the day to day on many parts of the city.”

Klepadlo said many legacy businesses have the experience that helped them to change their operations during the pandemic, but they still need assistance to recover from nearly a year of closure or greatly curtailed operation.

“We’ve seen businesses that have naturally pivoted to something that works well for them by adding to-go food or adding alcohol,” she said. “We’ve seen others who have viewed this as a transition point for retirement or a transition to a new owner, and we’ve heard lots who have tried to ebb and flow with a positive attitude.”

Photo by Jack Newton, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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