Another $4.65 million in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds were allocated on November 16 by the Saint Paul City Council. The funds are intended to assist small businesses, support new public art projects and help homeowners make energy-efficiency improvements.

The city has a total of $166.6 million in ARP funds to spend by December 31, 2026. So far, it has allocated $123 million and spent $44 million of that.

Small business assistance

In this latest round, the council allocated $2.5 million to the city’s Locally Owned Cooperative Assistance Loan (LOCAL) program. LOCAL uses a shared ownership or cooperative model to help small businesses, according to Muneer Karcher-Ramos, director of the city’s Office of Financial Empowerment, which administers the program in partnership with the Department of Planning and Economic Development.

The plan is to use $2.175 million of the allocation for loans and the rest for technical assistance, all of it in support of community-owned commercial real estate, employee-owned business startups and businesses that are expanding through employee ownership.

Filling vacant storefronts

One focus of the funds is to occupy vacant and abandoned storefronts. Helping small businesses avoid displacement and own their own properties has long been a goal of the City Council. However, council members have pushed for more specifics.

Council member Rebecca Noecker asked if the program could give preference to areas where businesses face potential displacement.

Council president Amy Brendmoen questioned how businesses would be selected for the LOCAL funds. Neighborhoods without community development corporations may be at a disadvantage, she said.

 

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Council member Mitra Jalali cited the high number of commercial landlords in her ward who live outside of it. She expressed optimism that the LOCAL program could help them as well.

$1 million for public art

The City Council allocated $1 million to the Creative Economy Project to pay artists to create both large and small art installations in the city’s commercial corridors and culturally designated areas. Those areas include parts of Highland Park, Summit-University, Frogtown, Hamline-Midway, the East Side, West Side and North End.

$1 million for home energy projects

Another $1 million was allocated to Healthy Homes Saint Paul to help low-income homeowners make the necessary home improvements to qualify for home weatherization and energy-efficiency programs. Mold or moisture issues, bad wiring, vermiculite insulation and other problems must be addressed before a home may take part in these programs, according to Kurt Schultz, program coordinator. Single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes are all eligible for the assistance.

More help for small businesses

The Sewer Availability Charges (SAC) program, administered by the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI), will draw on a $150,000 allocation to help small businesses pay a portion of their Metropolitan Council SAC fees. Businesses pay the one-time fee when they open or expand and increase capacity. The fees are charged when restaurants add outdoor dining, which many have as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. DSI director Angie Wiese estimated that about 60 businesses can be helped through the allocation.

— Jane McClure

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