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St. Petersburg unveils $6.8 million fund for small businesses hurt by Covid-19

Margie Manning

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St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin was at The Greenhouse when she announced the Fighting Chance Fund. (Facebook screenshot)

The city of St. Petersburg has released details on the Fighting Chance Fund, a $6.8 million program to help small businesses in the city that have been economically impacted by Covid-19 coronavirus and the strict governmental measures enacted to control the spread of the virus.

The fund will award grants to restaurants, bars, retail and service-based businesses in St. Petersburg that are owned by city residents and employ 25 or fewer people, as well as to their employees. There are about 900 St. Pete-owned and operated businesses in those four categories that collectively employ about 3,000 workers, said Deputy Mayor and City Administrator Kanika Tomalin.

Bars were ordered closed in mid-March and restaurants can only offer take-out or delivery. A statewide Stay at Home order issued by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that took effect Friday morning was expected to lead to many more business closures.  The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners issued an order temporarily closing all non-essential businesses, and giving the county administrator authority to order businesses that do not follow CDC guidelines for social distancing to close.

“St. Pete’s locally owned businesses are the backbone of this city and this will always be the case,” Tomalin said in announcing the fund Friday morning. “These businesses and their employees deserve a fighting chance. They are why we shine as a city and they are why we will shine again.”

The Fighting Chance Fund provides $5,000 grants to impacted eligible businesses and $500 to impacted eligible individuals. A full list of who is eligible and information on how to apply for funding is here. Applications will be available April 9 and will be accepted until funds are exhausted.

The awards are grants, not loans, so no payback is required, but the funds are only to be used for approved and eligible uses, such as commercial lease or mortgage payments, employee salaries and benefits, utilities and equipment for a digital transition.

They also may be considered taxable income, Tomalin said.

The Greenhouse, a small business resource center staffed by a team from the city of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, will be the hub for support and guidance as the program rolls out, she said.

The city is setting up a fundraising process to help fund a second phase, if needed. If a second phase of funding is executed, businesses will need to show reciepts from the first phase to be eligible for accountability purposes.

Those interested in donating to the fund can do so here.

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