Two new Cleveland grants aim to help struggling businesses during Covid-19 pandemic

Cleveland city council members want to cut through the red tape and help struggling restaurants and retail businesses get help faster.


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The City of Cleveland has made available a pair of new grants that aim to help restaurants and retail businesses that are struggling the most due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Cleveland city council people want to cut through the red tape and get help to businesses faster. They say the processes for permitting outdoor patios and getting aid to businesses need to be streamlined.

Cleveland Director of Economic Development David Ebersole announced the grants as part of the city’s ReStartCLE initiative at the Nov. 10 meeting of the city’s Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee.

The first is a supplement to the Emergency Working Capital (EWC) for Specially Impacted Business program, making $10,000 grants and supplemental $10,000 loans available to businesses like nail salons and barber shops, which Ebersole said rely on foot traffic to stay afloat.

The Winter Restaurant Operations Support Grant program is the second offering, and can allocate up to $5,000 for restaurants that have opened outdoor patios to purchase or rent equipment that will allow them to keep those patios open through the winter.

Applications for both programs are available online on the city’s website and will be due Nov. 30, with approvals to be sent out by mid-December and funds made available in January.

While acknowledging that this doesn’t fall under the director’s purview, Ward 3 Councilperson Kerry McCormack complained that he still has not received guidelines for local businesses looking to extend their patios, which is hindering their ability to move forward.

“I’ve got a lot of businesses that love the programs, love the grants, but if we’re so rigid about what they can and cannot do, they’re just going to throw their hands up,” he said. “Specifically, how can we work with businesses so that they can have heating elements that don’t pose a public safety threat, but also don’t come with restrictions that are so onerous that they throw up their hands and say, ‘It’s not worth it?’”

Ebersole said a city committee is working on finalizing those guidelines and should be rolling them out soon. Ward 17 councilman Charles Slife questioned why businesses couldn’t get the money sooner than January. The city’s finance department is shut down over the holidays, and doesn’t reopen until after the new year begins.

Committee chair Tony Brancatelli praised how quickly the Economic Development Department has processed loans. Ebersole said the department will likely process nearly 300 loans this year, nearly three times its typical annual volume.

In an interview, assistant media relations director Latoya Hunter explained that the working capital grant is intended to help businesses pay for PPE and other safety measures, while the loan is meant to offset the working capital and operations costs that many of these businesses face.

“The Emergency Working Capital program is designed to assist businesses whose operations are specifically impacted by COVID and have had to take exceptional measures to maintain operations throughout the pandemic,” Hunter said.

Hunter said the winter restaurant grant program has a total budget of $500,000 to assist as many as 100 restaurants in acquiring implements like heaters and fire pits to keep guests warm in outdoor seating areas as well as fixtures like awnings and tents to keep customers dry.

So far, Hunter said, her office has received 10 applications for the EWC supplemental loan with 17 applicants for the Winter Operations Grant.

“The (winter) grant requires the demonstration of access to an outdoor space,” Hunter said. “This could include patio spaces that are part of the restaurant’s property as well as properly permitted public spaces.”

Many Cleveland restaurants were able to open outdoor patio dining areas to better comply with social distancing guidelines earlier this year after the city announced that restaurants could fill out temporary expansion area (TEA) applications. They effectively allowed restaurant owners to cut through the red tape and place café-style seating in parking spaces and other areas where outdoor dining areas were previously prohibited.

Last month, Cleveland City Council voted to extend the patio dining rules that they had first authorized in June of 2020 to June of 2021. The winter grant initiatives, Hunter said, will support businesses who are contemplating filing TEA applications for the upcoming season.

“These businesses are based on providing services person-to-person and face-to-face,” Hunter added. “(They) have struggled with mandated closures and enforced reductions in capacity. At the same time, the ongoing health issues have shrunk their markets – even as restaurants have re-opened for operations, people are not dining out or shopping like they were pre-pandemic.”

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