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Downtown businesses eligible for Main Street mini-grants

by Tia Lyons | June 10, 2021 at 8:30 p.m.

Downtown business and property owners who are planning improvement projects to their buildings could be eligible for assistance through Main Street El Dorado’s annual mini-grant program.

Beth Brumley, MSE executive director, said the group is working out the details for the upcoming grant cycle and application process and will make an announcement soon.

Last month, Brumley reported that MSE has been awarded $25,000 from the state’s Downtown Revitalization Grant Program.

DTRGs are offered by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and MSE received the maximum $25,000 amount for the second consecutive year.

MSE was one of a handful of Main Street programs in Arkansas to receive $25,000, a $10,000 increase over the amount the group had typically received each year from the DTRG.

A portion of the money in 2020 was used for MSE’s mini-grant program, which provides matching funds of up to $1,500 for improvement projects that are approved for businesses within the MSE footprint.

During a regular MSE board meeting Tuesday, Brumley explained that the mini-grant program is open only to businesses within the Main Street District, which covers much of downtown El Dorado and extends south along Washington Avenue to the viaduct on East Hillsboro/U.S. 82B.

“Within the next couple of weeks or so, we should be announcing plans for the mini-grant cycle and how downtown businesses can apply,” Brumley said.

“They have to be in the downtown, Main Street footprint to qualify for aid with the mini-grant,” she emphasized. “Every year, I get calls from businesses all over El Dorado and unfortunately, I have to tell them they aren’t eligible.”

The maximum amount of the DTRGs was raised in 2020 so that local Main Street and Arkansas Downtown Network programs — ADN partners are communities that are not able to commit to revitalizing their historic commercial cores at the same level as certified Main Street cities — could do more to assist businesses who faced hardships because of COVID-19.

Grant awards ranged from $3,000 to $25,000.

DTRGs formerly maxed out at $15,000 and MSE is usually awarded the top-end amount.

Last year was no different and with an additional $10,000, Brumley said MSE was not only able to offer COVID relief funds to some businesses, the group also saw an increase in mini-grant applications and awarded 18 mini-grants.

In the past, mini-grants could only be used for exterior improvement projects, such as cleaning and replacing awnings and other small outside projects.

But in 2019, the AHPP expanded the terms of the grant to also cover interior improvements, including painting, lighting, flooring and window treatments.

“Anything that stays with the building if the business owner leaves,” Brumley explained at the time.

Over the years, MSE has also used DTRGs to purchase pole banners, benches, trash cans, cigarette urns and sidewalk signs that dot downtown. A DTRG was also used to make Wi-Fi available in the city’s Central Business District.

This year, Brumley said state officials have slightly different goals in mind for DTRGs: to direct them toward larger improvement projects.

“We expected to receive the same amount from last year and (Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism) is recommending that we spend that on bigger projects,” Brumley said.

“Maybe that means we’ll do (fewer) businesses,” she added. “With all of the projects that are going on downtown already, we’re looking at ways to make a bigger impact and get a bigger bang for our buck.”

She said MSE expects to learn more about the state’s plans and expectations for the DTRGs when they travel to Little Rock June 25 for the “bid check ceremony,” during which state officials will present giant checks to grant recipients and conduct a training session.

For more information about mini-grants, call the MSE office at 870-862-4747.

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