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Wilmington expands business loan programs with $1.4M ARPA funds

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Governor Carney signing Joyce Woodlen House Bill 205 at Joy’s Hair Boutique. | PHOTO COURTESY OF JOYCE WOODLEN

WILMINGTON – The city of Wilmington recently partnered with Cornerstone West CDC to allocate $1.45 million in America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to expand small business innovation programs.

Cornerstone West CDC partnered with Wilmington Alliance and True Access Capital in 2020 as a way to meet the changing needs of the small business community during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our holistic, comprehensive approach to neighborhood community development is crucial in Wilmington’s economic recovery from COVID-19,” Cornerstone West CDC Economic Development Manager Gabrielle Lantieri told Delaware Business Times. “I am hopeful this program will have a catalytic and visual impact on our commercial corridors, and also support BIPOC businesses located not only on the West Side but Wilmington’s low to moderate income neighbors, which have been historically overlooked and suffered disinvestment.”

Cornerstone West CDC will issue $550,000 for commercial stabilization by revitalizing the physical appearance of storefront improvements and addressing vacant commercial properties in its program, Building From Within: Small Business Commercial Corridor Stabilization & Innovation. The program has offered three funding opportunities to local businesses since Aug. 1: 

  • Wilmington Strong Fund: Provides $1,000 emergency grants to small businesses located in the small businesses citywide struggling with the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible businesses can use funds for rent/mortgage payments, utility, supplies, or inventory bills. 
  • West Side Small Business Innovation Grant: Works with entrepreneurs seeking to open their business in a commercial vacancy, property owners seeking potential tenants, and existing businesses to make minor repairs at their location on the West Side of Wilmington. Grant awards are between $1,000 and $10,000 for expenses related to leasehold improvements, interior and exterior repairs, façade improvements, new equipment or upgrades, costs related to permitting and health department approvals, and exterior security cameras.  
  • West Side Corridor Revitalization Fund: Offers up to $20,000 in forgivable loans to small businesses to act as a catalyst for economic revitalization on the West Side of Wilmington. Funding is intended for property and business owners seeking to invest in the West Side community. 

    Joy’s Hair Boutique located on N. Franklin Street in Wilmington | PHOTO COURTESY OF JOYCE WOODLEN

The remaining funds will be divided for residential improvements to increase homeownership by repurposing residential vacancies, developing high-quality affordable housing, and supporting current homeowners with critical repairs; and for commercial and mixed-use development to acquire vacant properties for redevelopment. 

The “Build From Within” model originated from Saint Paul, Minn.-based Neighborhood Development Center (NDC). The organization established a four-step template focused on entrepreneurs and revitalizing low-income neighborhoods via training, lending, technical assistance, and incubator spaces.

Dominican Cafe from Cornerstone West CDC

Dominican Café in Wilmington is one of the businesses that has benefited from the program. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CORNERSTONE CDC

Cornerstone West CDC is modeled after the “The Community Economic Development Handbook: Strategies and Tools to Revitalize Your Neighborhood” by Mihailo Temali, which emphasizes community involvement through surveys to accommodate the multifarious components of neighborhoods. The model also directs attention to commercial districts’ progress, noting “it must be a long-term, persistent effort led by local business and residents that draws resources from the private and public sector.”

There are an estimated 300 small businesses on the West Side, with many located between Lincoln Street, Union Street, and Lancaster Avenue. Lantieri estimates nearly 40 small business owners in Wilmington will apply for funding. 

For two years, the small business innovation program has helped business owners including Joyce Woodlyn at Joy’s Hair Boutique and Rebecca Rodrigues at Dominican Cafe to rebound economically from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I was able to do façade work that was needed on my building and pay my back taxes,” Woodlyn said. “This enabled me to keep my building in good standing with the building code inspectors and the Division of Revenue.”

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