Financial help is on the way for small businesses in the Grove City town center.

Financial help is on the way for small businesses in the Grove City town center.

Grove City Council members unanimously passed a resolution Jan. 19 that directs the city staff to develop a loan program for town center businesses, with the hope of encouraging development in the town center..

On Jan. 25, city administrator Phil Honsey said city employees could have a draft of a loan fund proposal next week. Council must vote on the specific plan before it can take effect.

Honsey said city officials have spoken with Columbus and Franklin County officials and studied revolving loan funds in communities across the state.

"We're not reinventing the wheel," Honsey added.

The Jan. 19 resolution was proposed by ward 1 councilman Ted Berry.

The resolution laid out guidelines for city staff in creating the program. According to the legislation, each loan should be handled on a case-by-case basis, but the maximum loan amount for one business should be $150,000. The resolution stated the fund should total $1-million.

"My hope is that the town center loan program is a starting point and means for innovative ideas and businesses that will be seeded in an area today that is struggling," Berry said Jan. 19. "It should be noted that this is only the start. The town center group, the council and the administration are working together on more exciting things to come."

At-large councilman Steve Bennett said the loan program is similar to programs offered through the national Main Street organization and Heritage Ohio, two organizations dedicated to restoring, maintaining and revitalizing historic districts in cities.

"Your government is listening," Bennett added.

Those owning a town center property or business are eligible for the loans. The center encompasses about a half-mile stretch along Broadway between Cleveland and Kingston avenues.

Interest on the loans is 3 percent per year.

Applicants must provide marketing plans and proof that all employees pay Grove City income tax. The program won't allow for loan forgiveness.

Guidelines for the program mention no equity requirements, but say adequate collateral is required to ensure proper repayment.

Property and business owners could use the loan money for a plethora of business-related needs. Guidelines for the program state the reasons for the loans will be evaluated.

According to the legislation, applications will be submitted to the city's development director, who will then review the applications with the finance director. Council members make the final decision.

City finance director Mike Turner said the $1-million for the loan program must come from nontax revenues to comply with Ohio law. Examples of nontax revenues are building permits, fines and interest.

Nontax revenues typically reach $1-2-million in the city's annual budget. Turner has estimated $1.7-million for the 2010 budget.

The money source for the loan program initially will be the city's general fund, but Turner said he might create a separate fund for accounting purposes.

The general fund revenues are estimated to reach $21.9-million in 2010.

Members of Grove City Town Center Inc., the downtown merchant association, released a statement Jan. 16 expressing their excitement for the future development of businesses and properties once work on the loan fund is completed.

Five residents spoke in favor of the resolution before council took a vote Jan. 19.

Andrew Furr, a resident of Grove City for more than 43 years, said the town center is the "core" of the city; it's where he grew up. Lately, however, the town center has lost its luster.

"I find that the town center is slowly dying," he said. "I find that this incentive program is one of the best I've ever heard of in the last several years."

Christine Houk, president of Grove City Town Center, on Jan. 19 said entrepreneurs could wait no longer. In the nine years Houk has owned a business in the town center, she said she has seen many businesses come and go.

"The final straw that pushed (the businesses' owners) to close the doors are all over the map; different in each case," Houk said. "However, there is one constant in my conversations with these business owners that is their love of the town center. Their parting words heard over and over again: 'We held out for as long as we could.'"

A drugstore, a hardware store and a grocery recently closed in the town center.

"In the last three years, I have come to realize that from our office windows at 3999 Broadway, we have witnessed the slow unraveling of the fabric of Grove City's historic town center," Houk said.

She added she has entertained the thought of moving her business from the town center.

"Yet, we, like our counterparts, love the town center," Houk said. "We are inspired by the potential to see great things happen in the town center. We are holding out for as long as we can."

Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said Jan. 19 he "can't be totally pessimistic" when it comes to the town center.

He alluded to an inventory of businesses kept by city staff. According to the inventory, 93 businesses are operating in the town center and about 91 percent of the buildings in the center are occupied.

"I'm telling you, we do have some positive things going on," Stage said.

He cited property tax abatements available through a community reinvestment area in the town center and a program created in 2001 that gives $1,000 grants to businesses in the downtown.

Stage said his administration will introduce legislation at the Feb. 1 council meeting to increase those grants tenfold.

"We got to keep the momentum," Stage said. "Let's get it done."

Also at the meeting:

Council members rescinded a decision by the city board of zoning appeals to grant a variance in the reduction of parking spaces for Buckeye Entertainment, 3131 Broadway. Tom Heart, an attorney representing Buckeye Entertainment, requested council members postpone a decision on the zoning appeal to allow more time to discuss a compromise. Marc Porreca, marketing director for the company, said Buckeye Entertainment runs private card and billiard clubs. Urbancrest Mayor Joseph L. Barnes told council members the business would bring "unwanted activity" to Urbancrest and Grove City. Council members approved a resolution to oppose an annexation request to Columbus by Jones Fuel Co. to mine gravel off Jackson Pike. Council members passed a resolution to appropriate property for improvements of the Interstate 71, state Route 665 interchange. The resolution is the first step in securing properties through eminent domain, said city administrator Phil Honsey said.

The interchange project will cost an estimated $34-million and be completed in 2012.