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Posted on: September 14, 2020

Atlantic Beach mulling small business grants

The City of Atlantic Beach is considering a grant program for restaurants, retail establishments and other businesses adversely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The City is reaching out to businesses to determine if there is interest in the program.

The issue will be discussed by the City Commission at its meeting via teleconference at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14.

“We have heard from so many of you … about the tight margins you’ve been operating under to keep your businesses afloat,” Mayor Ellen Glasser said in a Tuesday videoconference with local business operators.

Glasser said City officials are impressed by the creative adjustments local businesses have made during the pandemic.

“What you do makes our quality of life better, and we appreciate you,” she said.

Seventeen people – mostly business owners and managers – registered for the meeting, during which City officials also gave an update on the Beaches Town Center program. Other business operators and residents watched the teleconference on the City’s virtual meeting platform without registering.

The City is considering setting aside $50,000 in Better Jacksonville Plan sales tax proceeds and awarding grants of up to $5,000 each to Atlantic Beach-based and independently operated businesses. When asked, nearly all who attended the meeting said that they were interested in learning more about or applying for the grant program.

“Depending on the feedback we get from the businesses, we may change the (amount of grant funding). We want to see what the level of interest is,” Glasser said.

The grant program guidelines have not been vetted by the public or City Commission. As they are currently written, the guidelines state that awardees must have been classified as non-essential and mandated to close because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Milo Fashion at 363 Atlantic Blvd. in Atlantic Beach is among the small businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic. Father-daughter owners Mokhtar Chaker and Sabrina Chaker say they applaud the City potentially offering financial relief to businesses.

“The more businesses that are able to benefit, the greater,” Mokhtar Chaker said during the teleconference. “Even if the grants are smaller.”

Ann Pinner, who operates The Fish Co. with her husband, Bill, said during the teleconference that she’s appreciative that the city government is demonstrating that it cares about the community’s businesses.

Any grant amount would be welcome by small businesses, she said.

“It is a difficult time for businesses, and I just appreciate the acknowledgement of that,” Pinner said. “Any little bit of money to offset overhead expenses will help any and all businesses.”

The proposed grant guidelines state that to receive funding through this program, businesses would be required to clearly articulate a plan for applying City grant funds for an eligible use within the typical operating expenses of the business. Those expenses are listed in the proposal as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, payroll, retention of employees, employee support programs, or investments in materials or equipment necessary for reopening or operating during social distancing mandates.

Repayment would not be required unless funds are not used for eligible expenses. If the program is successful and the full amount is allocated, the City Commission may decide whether to implement a second round of grants.

Among the determinations to be made by the City Commission are:

  • Whether to proceed with a small business relief grant program
  • Eligibility requirements, including whether the intent of the program is to support businesses with low-to-moderate income employees
  • Whether grants would be approved at the staff level or by the City Commission
  • The application-to-award timeline

Information about the program is published at www.coab.us/coronavirus/business.

City officials also briefed the businesses on the Beaches Town Center paid-parking program. The City of Neptune Beach began operating the program in-house on Sept. 1, and the program’s soft roll-out ended Monday.

As of Tuesday, overtime violators will be subject to being ticketed. Pay-for-parking is enforced from 11 a.m. to midnight every day. Everyone gets 30 minutes free in Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach; registered Atlantic Beach residents get three hours free in Atlantic Beach.

Atlantic Beach residents may register for the program at www.northbeachesparking.com/atlantic.

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