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City banking on Main Street business incentives

Restaurant and Catering IndustryBusinessGovernment Aid

The city of Laurel has offered small businesses relocation assistance to move to Main Street for the past two years, but Mayor Craig Moe's offering has gone largely unaccepted.

Karl Brendle, Laurel's director of Community and Business Planning, said three businesses have applied for the city's Main Street Business Relocation Grant Program since its inception.

"He (Moe) wants people to know these are not elusive funds we're trying to hold on to," Brendle said.

The city's program offers business owners up to $10,000 to help defer the costs of moving an existing business to Main Street. These costs cover moving costs, utility hookups, interior remodeling and exterior signs.

Brendle said the primary reason that businesses have not taken advantage of these grants is because they just don't know about them.

But he is hopeful the expansion of a state grant and expected development near Main Street will increase awareness and participation in the program.

"The hope is that this will spur more interest," Brendle said.

But Matthew Coates, chairman of the Laurel Board of Trade, said he believes business owners know of the city and state incentive opportunities available to them.

"You can give them the water, but you can't make them drink it," Coates said.

Laurel is one of five communities in the state designated as a sustainable area. These communities, chosen by the state, are identified as areas in need of revitalization and a comprehensive strategy to encourage and guide local investment.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development recently expanded Laurel's designated sustainability area to include most properties on both sides of Route 1 from Cherry Lane to the Howard County line, and on Main Street from Route 1 to Seventh Street.

The expansion of the sustainable area opens the door for more local businesses to apply for the state's Neighborhood BusinessWorks loan program, which provides funding for establishing or relocating a business within the sustainable area. Loans can be granted up to $500,000 or 50 percent of the project's total cost, whichever is less.

Brendle said two business owners have applied for the state loan since its inception in 2011, but he wishes more would apply.

"We are trying to get the word out desperately for business owners to use a great resource," he said.

Brendle said Moe is looking to introduce additional incentives but details of those incentives have not been finalized.

City incentives

When Monika Price moved Laurel Health Foods to Main Street nine months ago, she was unaware of the city's incentive program until a Laurel Board of Trade member suggested it.

Price, who runs the store with her sons, Curtis and Phil, said she would have moved with or without an incentive from the city. Price said Brendle guided her through applying for the city's assistance program.

"Any incentive to stay in business is a positive in my book," she said.

In the first nine months, Price said loyal customers of the 42-year-old family-run store have followed her to the new location and there has been in increase in new customers.

"There is much better exposure here," she said. "We feel more a part of the community."

Brendle said Price is expected to be reimbursed for all of the $2,000 in moving expenses she submitted to the city.

Not all businesses are eligible for the city's grant program, but Brendle said the city would "love to have coffee shops and restaurants" on Main Street with residential development expected in the next few years.

He cautioned, however, that the city's main thoroughfare would "not turn into restaurant row over night."

Laurel Board of Trade's Coates said once development on the former police station on C Street and Towne Center at Laurel begin, more businesses will be looking to move to Main Street, which will drive up applications for the city's incentive program.

"It's a great opportunity if anybody wants to move here," he said. "It's a win-win situation."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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