NORTH LAWNDALE — A round of city funding has opened up to support business owners in North Lawndale, Austin and East Garfield Park who want to remodel or make critical repairs.
The city is accepting applications to the Small Business Improvement Fund, which is supported by revenues from Tax Increment Financing districts. The grants — which max out at $150,000 for commercial buildings and $250,000 for industrial properties — can help businesses pay for façade repairs, interior renovations, roofing, windows, floors, heating and cooling systems, plumbing, electrical and other construction projects.
Applications are being accepted until Feb. 8. The fund is open to businesses located within these TIF districts:
- Roosevelt/Cicero in North Lawndale: Mostly runs along Roosevelt Road, but the district is roughly bounded by the Eisenhower Expressway, Springfield Avenue, Cermak Road and Menard Avenue. It includes the industrial corridor spanning the western edge of North Lawndale and the southern tip of Austin
- North/Cicero in Austin: Bounded by Concord Place, Keating Avenue, Hirsch Street and Lavergne Avenue.
- Kinzie Industrial Corridor in Humboldt Park, West Town, Near West Side and East Garfield Park. Bounded roughly by Grand Avenue, the Kennedy Expressway, Washington Boulevard and Kedzie Avenue.
The round is also open to businesses in the Peterson/Pulaski TIF district in North Park and in the Pilsen Industrial Corridor. Another stage of applications targeting the West Side will include businesses in West Garfield Park, North Lawndale and South Lawndale.
The program is ideal for local businesses that want to expand but don’t have the capital on hand, said Ald. Michael Scott (24th).
“In our community, we need every business to be stable so they can create more jobs, so that our community becomes more whole. There’s a lot of things that we’re lacking, and for the city to step up and help with that is really important,” Scott said.
TIF funds are generated from developments in the district and property tax revenues. That means the Small Business Improvement Fund is directly reinvesting tax revenue in the area where those dollars were collected.
“That money will stay in the area it was generated from. That in and of itself is very important, because you’re not able to take that money somewhere else,” said Bernard Jennings, head of the Lawndale Business Renaissance Association.
That reinvestment is essential right now since many businesses are losing revenue due to the pandemic, Jennings said. Lost revenue makes it difficult for businesses to finance key projects that can help them stay afloat. Getting grants to pay for those projects can free up resources better spent on hiring workers, Jennings siad.
“Let’s say you have a leaky roof, and you have to fix that roof. Maybe that $200,000 could have gone to hiring other people that you need right now,” Jennings said. “There are direct impacts and indirect impacts.”
A past grant winner, Gold Leaf Design Group, is still indirectly reaping rewards from upgrading its building.
The company used some of the funds to replace an aging roof on its warehouse, which helped lower heating costs in the winter. They also redid the lighting in the building with more energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, “which saved us dramatically on the electricity bill,” said Darren DeMatoff, the design company’s principal.
“We had really old lighting. Not only was it horrible to see, but it also ate up the electricity,” DeMatoff said.
The funds helped Gold Leaf finish several other projects, including creating a kitchen, repairing the bathroom, replacing garage doors and building an awning in front of the building. Some of those are projects the company had needed to get done ever since moving into their 1300 S. Kostner Ave. warehouse, but they had been put off year after year due to a lack of extra cash.
“It’s really things that you’re putting up with that you don’t realize were dragging down the morale. Once you’re able to fix it, you realize they make all the difference in the world,” DeMatoff said. “There’s never money lying around, so this money goes back into keeping the business going.”
This program has been enhanced since it was last offered in the Roosevelt and Cicero industrial corridor in 2016. The maximum grant amounts have been boosted by 50 percent and 66 percent. Additionally, up to 90 percent of project costs can now be covered by the grant for commercial businesses, up from 75 percent in previous years.
The city’s planning department is hosting an informational webinar Feb. 3 for businesses interested in applying. Registration, applications and past webinars are available on the city’s Small Business Improvement Fund webpage.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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