St. Paul businesses get $1.6 million after civil unrest

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St. Paul businesses have received more than $1.6 million for to recover from 2020’s civil unrest. Another $4.725 million went to help small business affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether additional dollars can be obtained from state and federal sources for either program is still a question mark.

Requests for additional funding for businesses affect by civil unrest are pending at the 2021 Minnesota Legislature. While a third round of pandemic-related grants is underway at city hall, the most recent federal funds have focused on needs such as ventilation equipment.

St. Paul City Council members and area groups including Union Park District Council (UPDC) have been reviewing the allocations made so far, and what’s ahead. City officials have been tracking their own and outside grant programs, while UPDC oversees the Neighbors United Fund.

Both the city council and district council discussions focused on building ownership as a priority for businesses, especially those affected by the civil unrest during the summer, after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

A goal for the city is to equitably support local businesses as they rebuild. Another goal is to help Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC)-owned businesses, said Mary Rick, business development director for the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED).
Another key issue is how small business owners can own their properties. Ward 4 Council Member Mitra Jalali said that’s an issue her office deals with often, as small business owners worry about displacement when properties are sold. “We won’t get anywhere until our neighborhood businesses are owned by our neighborhoods,” she said.

Moving toward a model of helping businesses, land banks or community economic co-ops buy or make down payments on commercial properties would be a shift in focus for city business programs, said HRA Chair Chris Tolbert. But he and other council members and city staff believe it is something that needs to be looked at.

Neighbors United Fund
Currently, five funds support business affected by civil unrest. One is the Neighbors United Fund, which was set up by the Minnesota United soccer team, UPDC and Hamline Midway Coalition. Management of the fund has generated controversy. HMC pulled out of management duties last summer.

The city’s totals show that Neighbors United has helped 22 businesses, including 15 that are in the funding pipeline awaiting final action. A total of $1.578 million was raised, with $515,700 committed and $145,700 disbursed. That leaves $1.06 million remaining. The fund’s board and staff work with the nonprofit Nexus Community Partners and UPDC to get money out.

Michael Martinez is a UPDC member who sits on the Neighbors United advisory committee. One recent request the committee has considered is that of Bole, an Ethiopian restaurant that lost its building at University and Syndicate in a fire. Bole sought $50,000 and was recommended for $25,000. The restaurant is reopening, but in Como neighborhood. Martinez said such cases, where a business wants to relocate but to a neighborhood near Midway, are being considered on a case-by-case basis.

Other funds helping
The We Love Midway and We Love St. Paul funds overseen by the Midway and St. Paul Area Chambers of Commerce, assisted 81 St. Paul businesses. That total includes four in the approval pipeline. More than $1 million has been raised, with $890,000 disbursed and about $80,000 remaining.

Let’s Rebuild: African Immigrant Businesses in Minnesota is overseen by African Economic Development Solutions. It has assisted 85 St. Paul businesses, raised $487,000 and disbursed $165,000.

The Asian Business Recovery Fund is oversee by Asian Economic Development Association. It raised $504,000 and disbursed $428,600 in St. Paul to 38 businesses. Both the Asian and African-focused groups disperse funds to affected businesses throughout the Twin Cities.

The East Side Business Association, overseen by East Side Area Business Association, raised and disbursed more than $15,000 to 15 East Side businesses.

131 of 261 businesses repaired
PED and Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) staff continue to monitor businesses affected by civil unrest, said Rick. Of 261 businesses directly impacted, 131 have been repaired and another 73 need repairs. Other buildings are condemned, vacant or boarded.

The HRA is also tracking pandemic-related spending. Grants from the Bridge Fund, supported by city, federal CARES Act dollars, and private donations, have gotten out more quickly. It provides one-time $7,500 grants for businesses. The program is for retail businesses with under $2 million in annual revenue, said Andrew Hestness, principal projects manager for PED. Eligible business must have been impacted by an order by the governor related to the pandemic, such as restaurants being shut down.

The initial 10-day application period drew 2,107 requests, which Hestness said exceeded funding.
A total of 555 businesses were helped, with $2.85 million distributed to 380 businesses during the summer and 175 businesses sharing $1.31 million in the fall.

Hestness said a third round is underway, with $562,000 to be split between 75 businesses. City officials will continue to direct businesses to other programs such as payroll protection, and will use other pandemic-related programs as they become available.

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