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CRA to start grant program for South Cape businesses impacted by the pandemic

By Staff | May 14, 2020

The Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency on Wednesday got the ball rolling on a grant program that would provide funding for struggling local businesses to pay rent or mortgages after forced closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CRA Board of Commissioners will now hold a special meeting next Wednesday to develop a plan on how this Small Business Disaster Relief Program will work and who will benefit.

The CRA board had a lengthy discussion on the framework the program will entail. CRA board chairperson Stacy Lomonaco said the CRA had to do something.

“This is unprecedented and we need to look at what other CRAs are doing,” said Lomonaco. who proposes to take $300,000 that was to go toward boat slips for Bimini Basin and use it for a grant program to help struggling businesses.

Several business owners told the CRA board of the impact caused by restrictions imposed due to the pandemic.

“I’ve lost 95 percent of my business. I can’t get a loan or pay rent. I don’t know if I’m going to make it,” said Dave Fulkerson, owner of Diamond Dave Jewelry at Big John’s Plaza. “I’ve had one sale in two months. My items are elite and people don’t buy jewelry in these times.”

The thought at first was to make such grants a loan, but questions then arose as to whether it could be forgiven, and how helpful a loan would be for the smallest of businesses.

“This needs to be done correctly. Do we give this to a nail salon or to Dixie Roadhouse? We need to hash this out as soon as possible,” said CRA commissioner Ragen St. Peter. “I don’t want national chains getting this, and I want lots of qualifications.”

The thought was that $5,000 to a large business would barely make a dent, but for a small one, that much money could help keep it going until guidelines allow such a business to fully reopen.

CRA Director John Szerlag said the CRA should postpone capital projects as a way to keep it sustainable and so that money can be used toward the program.

The May 27 special meeting to be held at 2 p.m. in city council chambers will determine what businesses would be eligible, whether businesses applying for PPP or SBA loans should be eligible, if the program will be a loan, forgivable loan or grant, who would get priority and what the cap would be.

In other business, the commission approved 5-0 a site-specific TIF agreement between the CRA and Insite Management Solutions, a company the CRA has hoped to bring downtown.

The TIF rebate is not to exceed $200,000 over a 20-year period for the company, which has 57 employees and hopes to more than double that in the next few years.

TIF financing basically rebates to the business a portion of city and county property taxes that would have been CRA revenue.

The company is also considering the Pine Island Corridor and Fort Myers.

City Hall is at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.