By Joshua Burd
State officials have formally rolled out two funding programs meant to spur investment in street-level retail space in five cities: Trenton, Paterson, Passaic, Camden and Atlantic City.
The programs, the Business Lease Incentive and the Business Improvement Incentive, are targeting designated commercial corridors within the cities. With up to $200,000 available to each city as part of a three-year pilot program, tenants or shop owners in the corridors can seek reimbursements for a portion of their lease payments or matching grants of up to $20,000 if they invest in improvements to their spaces.
The Economic Development Authority is overseeing the pilot program in what are known as the five Garden State Growth Zones, as created under the Economic Opportunity Act in 2013. Agency officials gathered in Atlantic City recently to mark the official launch of the incentives, which were announced earlier this year.
“The BLI and BII programs will serve as a complement to the private investment occurring in GSGZs driven by the Economic Opportunity Act,” said Melissa Orsen, CEO of the Economic Development Authority. “These programs present an opportunity for small businesses to improve the appearance and functionality of their facilities and help to position them to capitalize on local economic momentum.”
The Business Lease Incentive is aimed at businesses and nonprofits that plan to lease between 500 and 5,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space for at least five years as part of a new transaction or an expansion. Under the program, the EDA will reimburse those businesses for 15 percent of their annual lease payments for two years.
An applicant leasing more than 5,000 square feet would be eligible, but the tenant would only be reimbursed for the first 5,000 square feet.
The Business Improvement Incentive will offer onetime grants of up to $20,000, matching up to 50 percent of the total project costs, for merchants that plan to make improvements to their street-level spaces, with a minimum project cost of $5,000.
The EDA tailored the programs to each community in collaboration with local officials to ensure that they meet the needs of each market, the authority said. In Atlantic City, businesses located in Main Street and the Downtown Loop areas are considered eligible.
“The new BLI and BII programs will help to attract and retain small downtown businesses and drive economic momentum and job creation in our City,” Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian said. “I encourage business owners in eligible areas to take advantage of these programs. Atlantic City is uniquely positioned next to a beautiful ocean and a world-famous boardwalk.
“No matter what size company you have, the time to invest in Atlantic City is now!”