Helping Winslow Way businesses a priority

Community organizations are starting the search process early to help the downtown business community ride out the Winslow Way reconstruction project.

As the project draws closer, questions linger throughout the community as to what the project will look like and how it will impact business.

A “technical team,” composed of representatives from the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association (BIDA), Chamber of Commerce, city officials and several other organizations, assembled for the second time last week to try and look for solutions and resources to prepare for the bulldozers to begin in late March or early April.

Potential resources including grants and low-interest loans will be presented to the business community in a meeting scheduled for late January. Representatives from agencies around the state and county will be on hand to offer advice and resources, which will be critical since the city is financially restricted by what resources they can provide.

Cheryle Elmquist of Elmquist and Associates Property Managers said property and business owners need more information as they budget for next year. They need clarification on who bears the responsibility for any issues that may emerge from construction, hook ups and sewer and water improvements.

“We have a lot of really old buildings and we may not have problems now but when they come in and excavate there could be some collapse with the digging and pounding,” said Elmquist. “Business owners are running very, very thin right now and they need to know if they have a liability they aren’t aware of now because they might not have the cash to fix something the city finds later.”

Chris Hammer from Public Works and Planning said business owners are responsible for what’s on their property and the city is for anything up to their building. He doesn’t think it’s likely for any problems to emerge, but said everyone should be aware of the possibility.

Elmquist also addressed the need to have one point person for businesses to contact as a liason in case there are problems.

The technical team is investigating several funding avenues for businesses who run into financial problems. BIDA is applying for a Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG) from the United States Rural Development Association in the upcoming weeks. The RBEG program provides funds for small and emerging private businesses for a broad range of uses including working capital, technical assistance and construction. The grant is distributed to a public body or private nonprofit to assist the business.

BIDA was originally allocated $40,000 from the city for the Winslow Way Communications Plan and plans to use those funds as a match for an US RDA grant to enhance the attractiveness of their application.

Tuana Jones from the US RDA said they state is anticipating to allocate a total of $350,000 and $450,000 for grants and applications requesting $50,000 or less will be most competitive. Selections will be made in March.

Jones advised the group to pull together as many resources as possible to avoid overlooking anything that will impact business.

“If busineses are considering closing their doors before the project every starts, that is scary if they are teetering on the edge now,” said Jones. “You need to turn over every stone and look for different ways to hang through the tough times to keep things viable.”

Becky Newton of the Kitsap Economic Development Authority said there are several types of lending available for those who might not qualify for traditional bank loans. By next spring, the Olympic Finance Development Fund (OFDA), a four-county private nonprofit corporation developed for Clallam, Jefferson, Mason and Kitsap counties, plans to have as much as $2 million in lo- interest loans available. The loans will provide gap funding and other business loan needs for companies that may not qualify for a traditional bank loan. Several other organizations including The Kitsap County Community Development Corporation and Shoreline Bank provide loans to small businesses and nonprofit organizations that can’t fund funding through traditional sources and gap funding.

The meeting with business and property owners is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 27.

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