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State business loans approved Area of Clay, West streets named 'revitalization zone'


The Annapolis City Council approved last night a resolution allowing businesses in the Clay and West streets neighborhood to apply for thousands of dollars in state loans.

"These are people with dreams," said Alderman Dean L. Johnson, who represents a ward that includes the neighborhood. "This will help the major revitalization of businesses which haven't had the opportunity to get loans."

The council approved a resolution designating the area as a "revitalization zone," allowing businesses to finance up to 50 percent of development costs -- between $50,000 and $500,000 in loans -- under the state's Neighborhood Business Development Program.

Once considered the center of a vibrant commercial district in the city's black community, Clay and West streets are troubled by the same crime, poverty and unemployment problems that are found in big cities.

To address some of those troubles, several aldermen introduced last night a bill that would allow any business in a revitalization area to delay full payment to the city of start-up costs for utility services. Neighborhood businesses would get three years to pay the fees.

Loretta "Robbie" Allen, who tends bar at Nick and TJ's Place on Clay Street, hopes to benefit from the measures. She plans to buy the business, and applied for a $40,000 loan from Anne Arundel County last week. She wants to spend $10,000 converting a small shop connected to the bar into a convenience store. "You can't even buy a half a gallon of milk without walking three or four miles," said Ms. Allen, 38. "You can't buy a loaf of bread. You can't buy a big box of soap. You can't buy toilet paper. You can't buy the necessities to get yourself together."

The city's efforts dovetail with proposals by Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary to offer businesses in the neighborhood a combination of tax credits, start-up loans and business advice.

The Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the county's economic development arm, is working with Morgan State University and Anne Arundel Community College to help bring ** more small businesses to the neighborhood.

Some council members see a future of more than just mom-and-pop stores in the neighborhood.

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat, said lawyers and court support staff could establish offices in the neighborhood once a project to expand the Anne Arundel County Courthouse is completed.

"With this legal hub in town, the demand for new office space is going to increase," Ms. Moyer said. "It's a place that's ripe for development."

Ms. Allen agrees. The commercial district consists of a coin laundry, a carryout restaurant and a few other small businesses.

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