More than a million dollars in grant funds have been awarded so far to San Antonio business owners affected by city construction projects, including several located on the St. Mary’s Strip, where extensive street work is set to be complete this summer.

“There’s definitely a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sean Wen, co-owner of Curry Boys BBQ and the newly opened Wurst Behavior restaurants. 

Wen recently received a grant from the city that he said he will spend on payroll.

Wen had barely opened the doors on his restaurant along North St. Mary’s Street when construction on the thoroughfare lined with bars and restaurants began in May 2021. 

“We didn’t know the construction was going to hamper sales that much,” he said. In fact, the roadwork cut off access to the restaurant’s driveway for a month and reduced revenue by 30% to 40%.

Another business owner told the city he planned to use the grant money to pay for new equipment for his motorcycle sales and repair shop, Red Line Motorcycles, where customer access was limited by construction along U.S. Highway 90.

In January, the City Council approved a grant program to help such business owners affected by both the pandemic and simultaneous bond-related road projects. 

The COVID/Construction Recovery Grants Program was funded with $2.25 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) with some additional funds added later.

To be eligible, applicants had to have storefront operations in 15 designated areas throughout the city where construction projects were deemed to impact business activity and be able to demonstrate net revenue losses in 2022 compared to the previous year.

City staff initially estimated the program could award grants to 60 to 80 businesses. When the application process closed on Feb. 28, the number of applications totaled 218. 

As of Monday, 51 businesses have received grants totaling $1.36 million, according to a city spokesman. Grant amounts range between $10,000 and $35,000 and the average award is $25,000.

The grants are intended to take the sting out of short-term losses as the city completes projects to improve roads for the long term. 

“We certainly hear their frustration, but I think we’ve also heard from a number of businesses that [said] this is a lifeline, or in the case of the Red Line Motorcycles, this is an opportunity for me to grow my business,” said Ana Bradshaw, assistant director of the city’s economic development department.

“We want to serve our customers, and this is right now a challenge,” Bradshaw added. “But at the end of the day, we want the road work done, we want the benefits of it.”

In late March, Malcolm Hartman, co-owner of Tycoon Flats restaurant, was still waiting to hear whether his application would be approved. No news was not good news given the losses his businesses had endured due to the ongoing road work on North St. Mary’s.

“We heard that feedback, and Liftfund has stepped up their communication feedback efforts and so every applicant has heard communication one way or another,” Bradshaw said.

Hartman said Tuesday he was contacted about two weeks ago. “We got the maximum amount, which was about 20 times too little,” he said. “However, we are grateful.”

The city will continue to notify applicants and deny or award grants through the end of May, with all funds disbursed by early June when a final list of recipients will be made public. 

In the meantime, the economic development department also is working on a signage program to assist businesses located in construction corridors. 

Using $400,000 in funds budgeted for a construction mitigation pilot program, the city plans to help businesses obtain signs, mailers and other marketing efforts to help them keep customers coming in their doors. 

It also plans to pilot a program later this summer that would offset the cost of discounts that construction-impacted businesses could use to promote their products and services.

Of the 15 corridors where ongoing construction projects affected businesses, work has been completed on two projects — both Fredericksburg and Harry Wurzbach roads — and another six are slated for completion this summer. Two more are set to finish up this fall and the remainder in 2024.

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.