A new grant program designed to provide economic relief for storefront businesses affected by ongoing road construction will go before City Council next week.
City officials will propose allocating $2.25 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to give qualifying business owners up to $35,000 to offset losses they suffered due to the COVID pandemic and city-funded construction projects.
For several months, bar owners and others along N. St. Mary’s Street and other areas have lodged complaints about infrastructure work that has slowed sales and affected parking and pedestrian safety.
The grant program is designed to offer some aid to such businesses that were only beginning to recover from economic catastrophe wrought by the pandemic, said City Manager Erik Walsh.
If approved by council, the COVID/Construction Recovery Grants program would be administered by the nonprofit LiftFund and available to businesses with storefronts in 14 designated areas where major construction has impeded customer access.
Those areas include commercial sections of Broadway Street, Bulverde Road, Commerce Street, Barrera Parkway, Fredericksburg Road, Harry Wurzbach and Austin Highway, North Main Avenue and Soledad, North New Braunfels, North St. Mary’s Street, San Saba, Santa Rosa, West Commerce and streets surrounding the Alamo.
Applications will be scored according to business size and net revenue loss, and grants of between $10,000 and $35,000 will be awarded accordingly. The funds can be used for operating expenses, including working capital, payroll, supplies and utility payments.
In 2022, City Council allocated $17 million in ARPA funds for a COVID Impact Grants program for small businesses. A business operating in one of 19 designated construction zones is eligible for an additional $10,000. So far, only 117 applicants have qualified for the funds. The new program will be funded with some of those dollars.
In early December, Economic Development Department staff laid out plans to use another $400,000 recently budgeted for a construction mitigation pilot program that would help businesses deal with construction challenges.
Walsh said he plans to move fast to put the new proposed grant program into effect, starting with ensuring that businesses are aware of the program.
“If the council is OK with it, then I’ve got the authority under the existing ARPA ordinances to put this program into place, and so we’ve moved pretty quickly,” he said.
Walsh said he is also working to make changes in the way the city manages construction projects to ensure work is done on time and to communicate better with everyone affected by a major project.
During a weekly meeting with St. Mary’s Strip business owners, city officials and contractors on Friday evening, Public Works Director Razi Hosseini outlined the construction schedule and said roadwork will be completed in March and sidewalks by “summer or sooner.”
The project began in May 2021 and is expected to be completed in December. Hosseini described weather conditions, both rain and cold, that caused setbacks to some parts of the project.
But at least one bar owner wanted to know how contractors could be held responsible for what the business owners consider avoidable problems and delays on the project.
While the city has not criticized contractors for their work, Walsh told the San Antonio Report that he plans to put an ordinance before council at the end of January that would give him the ability to “skip over poor-performing contractors” during a bid process, he said.
“The expectations that I have is that is that we deliver those infrastructure projects on schedule, that we overly communicate to affected stakeholders, and that we uphold that commitment that we receive from the voters to deliver projects,” he said.
In addition to holding contractors accountable, Walsh said he plans to improve how the city coordinates projects with utility and telecommunications providers involved in road construction projects.
“The public expects that because it’s their money and I certainly expect it because it’s my responsibility,” he said.
The council will hear a briefing and vote on the proposed COVID/Construction Recovery Grants program on Wednesday.