Whether a local downtown business venture will receive state grant assistance that would move it forward expeditiously is expected to be known as early as next week.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved in October the submission of a grant application to the N.C. Rural Center for $160,000 in Building Reuse and Restoration grant funds. The funds would help in completing upgrades to a two-story building at 101 Wall St., owned by Burgess Group Consolidated LLC.
“This application was submitted to the Rural Center and is in its review process,” said John Swope, executive director of the Sampson County Economic Development Commission.
The grant awards are expected to be announced Dec. 5.
“They could do it earlier, but I don’t anticipate it would be later,” Swope said. “They are pretty good at that.”
Business owner Rusty Jackson said the grant would greatly assist in making renovations necessary to open three new food establishments — a bakery and cafe on the first floor and an upscale restaurant on the second — at the Wall Street and Main Inc. venture in downtown Clinton.
The Rural Center grant program would provide $8,000 per full-time job created, with Wall Street and Main Inc’s 20 proposed full-time jobs, at 35 hours per week, required to be created within 18 months of the Dec. 5 grant award date. Those 20 jobs must be maintained by the company for at least six consecutive months. There are an additional 35 part-time jobs anticipated as part of the three-business venture.
As a stipulation of the grant, the local government applicant must contribute at least 5 percent, or $8,000, cash match of the grant amount. Wall Street and Main Inc. has agreed to provide the county that local government match.
The state funds would be granted to the county, which would lend the funds to the property owner in the form of a deferred, forgivable loan, which will be secured with a loan performance agreement and promissory note signed by the property owner.
Jackson and property owner Vince Burgess previously agreed to a number of stipulations, including having an independent banker look at the financial strength of the company. Obtaining a deed of trust and an appraisal of the property were also offered as additional avenues toward protecting the county. The county would have to call in the loan for repayment by the company and attempt to recoup them, but would not be obligated to pay themselves.
Jackson said she is confident about the strength of the application, noting that she and Burgess were willing to give guarantees locally and to the state exceeding what was requested.
“I know they were happy to get such a good guarantee. I think that would help a lot, but in the end, I don’t know,” she said. “You cross all you T’s and dot your I’s, but you don’t know. In the end someone else makes the decision. That’s a little scary.”
Swope said it is not known how many other applications are being considered from across the state or how big the pot of money is from which approved applications are funded. He did say the Wall Street and Main Inc. application approval was dependent on the strength of other reuse requests.
“It really depends on the other applications and how they stack up,” said Swope. “If approved, there is a number of contingencies from the Rural Center and the county commissioners that must be met, some paperwork and documentation that must be done.”
Then, the project could proceed.
If not approved, Swope said, Wall Street and Main Inc., through the county, could reapply for the funds, possibly with modifications to the application. Lowering the jobs that would be created could enhance the attractiveness of the application, as it would not be for as much money, however any modification would be up to the owner and would again have to be approved by commissioners.
“That might make it more competitive, because they would be asking for less money,” said Swope. “That would depend on the owner. (Construction) might take longer.”
According to numbers provided in October, the building was purchased by Burgess Group for $100,000 in September 2009 and there has been $374,700 in building improvements since restoration began in 2010, with another $625,300 proposed. All totaled, the project with building purchase will come to $1.1 million.
Should the $160,000 grant be received, that would cut into $625,300 in proposed renovations still to be completed. Burgess Consolidated would reportedly put up the balance.
Jackson has estimated three months for construction once funds are received in December, so work could be completed by March and the three businesses opened starting in April. A staggered opening is anticipated, Jackson noted.
While the city of Clinton opted out of serving as the pass-through for the Rural Center grant application earlier this year before the matter was taken to the county board, Jackson said the city has been a great help in ensuring outside utility work has been completed so the necessary — and expensive — hook-ups can be made to the two-story establishment.
The state grant would assure another significant hurdle is surmounted. If not approved, Jackson said the venture will still happen, just at a slower pace. No construction has happened in recent weeks, as they await word of the outcome of the grant application.
“It’ll set me back a couple months, because I’ll have to find some money somehow,” she said. “We will move forward regardless. I talked to Vince and he said we will finish it. Grant or not, we should be able to move forward. It will just be a little slower.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.