Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development (OED) announced the $1.9 million Coronavirus Local Tax Relief (CLFR) funding investment in the Tenant Improvement Fund businesses to support small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Through an open application process, the Tenant Improvement Fund will award eligible small businesses up to $100,000 to build commercial space and make commercial improvements more affordable for projects within Seattle city limits. The Tenant Improvement Fund:
- Help companies carry out construction projects for existing or new commercial spaces,
- Give businesses access to expedited permitting services and consultant resources to meet project needs, such as space planning, help speaking with a landlord, help with screening of a general contractor and the management of the construction process,
- Respond to an immediate need to fill our city’s empty storefronts to support Seattle’s economic recovery, and
- Support wealth creation for business owners.
“Thriving local small businesses are essential to our city’s recovery from the pandemic,” said Harrell. “This significant new investment in the Tenant Improvement Fund means a major boost for small businesses and BIPOC-owned businesses, helping to ensure a fair economic recovery and supporting long-term revitalization and success. Small businesses are looking for concrete financial assistance and effective guidance from the city. This investment of time and money from our Office of Economic Development will help make meaningful improvements so that small businesses can continue to improve the fabric of our communities and provide well-paying jobs for those who live there.
Tenant Improvement Fund grants will be awarded as a forgivable loan with 0% interest. The loan will be converted into a grant once the company has been in operation for a period of one year following the completion of construction of the project. Small business owners can use tenant improvement funding for fixed construction costs and non-construction soft costs such as architect fees, permit fees, etc., related to their projects . The funding will cover costs such as establishing or renovating outdoor seating, installing take-out windows, improving air filtration systems, expanding existing commercial space, building a new commercial space, etc.
Applications for Tenant Improvement Funds are due September 8, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. through the online grants portal. Late applications will not be accepted. OED will hold two information sessions to outline the intent of this funding opportunity and answer questions. Virtual sessions will be hosted on Webex and will be recorded.
Bilingual staff are available to answer questions and help applicants complete their application in the following languages: Amharic, Chinese, Korean, Somali, Spanish, Thai and Vietnamese. Support in other languages is available through our language line. To request translation or interpretation services, businesses can call (206) 684-8090 and record the following information in their voicemail: name, phone number, preferred language and type of assistance needed.
“Business affordability exists on a continuum and requires the city to have different resources available that meet the unique needs of our businesses and entrepreneurs. Some businesses need flexible working capital and benefit from our access to capital program. For others, they need a foot in the door of affordable commercial real estate and benefit from our Seattle Restored program. And for other businesses, they need capital and technical assistance to renovate and build new and existing retail spaces to support their business goals – and that’s what the Business Improvement Fund will do. tenants”, said Markham McIntyre, acting director of the Seattle Office of Economic Development.
Eligibility requirements for the leasehold improvement include:
- To be an independent, non-franchise, non-chain, for-profit business located within the city limits of Seattle.
- Do not have more than 50 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees.
- Have an annual gross income not exceeding $2 million.
- Have experienced direct economic disruption due to COVID-19.
- Started operating their business before 2019. If the project is a startup, the applicant must have business experience or industry experience.
- Submit a letter of support for the proposed project written by a local business district organization, other small business owner, or non-profit organization located in the neighborhood where the desired project is or will be located.
- Have an active business license from the City of Seattle and have filed the city’s Business and Occupation (B&O) taxes. Businesses must pay all taxes if due or comply within two months of selection.
Selection of winners and grant amounts will be prioritized based on the following criteria:
- Viability: Business sustainability, such as historical sales or annual gross sales, and business experience. For start-up projects, the candidate must have previous commercial or industrial experience.
- Project preparation: State of the physical space, description of the project, detail of the budget and commitment of other sources of funding.
- Equity: Projects serving neighborhoods with high COVID impact and high risk of displacement and/or projects focused on supporting BIPOC, women-owned businesses.
- Impact: Projects or business owners providing social and/or public benefits that have a positive impact on the community. Projects that would help small businesses not be displaced or support the relocation of businesses that have been displaced.
OED, in partnership with a community advisory group and the National Development Council (NDC), will review and assess applications for selection. All projects selected for funding will be announced in October 2022.
Since the launch of the Tenant Improvement Fund pilot project in 2019, OED has provided funding to local businesses such as Earl’s Cuts and Styles, Phnom Penh, Musang, Communion, A4 Apple Learning Center, Jackson’s Catfish Corner and Simply Soulful. Prior to the pandemic, small business owners in Seattle, particularly Black, Indigenous and other people of color business owners, faced continued systemic barriers to capital, gentrification and displacement, as well as to inequitable public policies that impacted their ability to access and secure affordable commercial space. As the city strives to help activate vacant commercial properties, caused in part by the pandemic and rising commercial rents, the Tenant Improvement Fund is responding to these commercial affordability challenges by providing resources to financial and technical assistance to small businesses to renovate and build new and existing commercial spaces to help their business stabilize, grow and prosper.
“We are extremely grateful that we were able to get help from OED to purchase our equipment! Investing in our business has helped us stay out of debt to open our new location and set us up for success,” said Lillian Rambus, co-owner of Simply Soulful. “Thank you for investing in a business owned by black women!”