EDITORIAL: Small grants, loans can launch a neighborhood renaissance

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Sometimes just a little bit of help is all a business needs to get over the hump.

That’s the theory behind Local Initiatives Support Corp.’s Small Business Facade Improvement program, which IBJ’s Susan Orr detailed in last week’s paper.

The program has awarded more than $3.1 million to Marion County businesses since 2004—funding that has helped leverage more than $10.6 million in investment by property owners.

Most of the grants are quite small—usually a few thousand dollars and rarely more than $25,000. The money can cover 50 percent of the cost of facade improvements, including new signs, entryway improvements, exterior painting and new windows.

We love the idea. And the proof is in the results. Some of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods—Fountain Square and Mass Ave, among them—have been beneficiaries of facade grants.

The Fletcher Place area is a great example. Mexican sandwich shop Tortas Guicho Dominguez y El Cubanito, upscale restaurant Bluebeard, brunch spot Milktooth and distillery Hotel Tango all received money to help freshen up their storefronts. The resulting facades help give the area a trendy vibe that draws customers and distinguishes the neighborhood from others.

There’s also a subtle pressure that comes when one business improves its look. The keeping-up-with-the-Joneses effect means other businesses are likely to follow suit and improve their storefronts as well, which can contribute to the renaissance of an entire neighborhood.

The grant program “helps prime the pump,” said Tedd Grain, deputy director for LISC’s Indianapolis office.

We like programs that provide a helping hand to businesses at crucial points in their development.

Last year, IBJ wrote about the Indy Chamber’s Business Ownership Initiative, which offers microloans—no larger than $50,000—to small companies that would otherwise have trouble borrowing. Firms use the money on technology, to buy new equipment, to expand or to make improvements.

Ebenezer Ossei-Boateng, owner of KB International, a small grocery specializing in African and Caribbean foods, told IBJ in 2017 that a loan from the program helped him buy a new freezer and boost his inventory—without resorting to the type of high-interest, cash-advance loans he’d relied on in the past.

Carlos Aleman, owner of Autopotenza, an auto repair shop specializing in high-end cars, has received two microloans—both times to buy equipment, including a compressor and a diagnostic system.

“These loans have been important because it gave me the peace of mind that I was getting a loan that was not aggressive and that I could have longer terms to pay,” Aleman told IBJ. “Otherwise, I was going to have a quick loan with high interest rates with daily withdrawals.”

We commend these programs and others that are aimed not at subsidizing businesses but helping to give them a small boost to get them going or keep them going. They help not only individual companies but neighborhoods and the city as a whole.•


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