Meriden’s American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee has been busy making recommendations for spending federal funds to help the city rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. A recent recommendation ought to be an easy one for the City Council to approve, because it will help clear a significant hurdle when it comes to revitalizing vacant buildings.
The recommendation is to spend $5 million of the city’s ARPA funds on the “Meriden Commercial Space Upgrade Program.” The money would go to owners of empty and underused commercial properties and help them meet building and zoning requirements, as well as provide what was described as “vanilla box” renovations.
The application describes the goal of “vanilla box upgrades” as reducing “the risk to building owners and increase their likelihood of undertaking such upgrades. The overall goal of these financial incentives is to attract new business tenants to occupy vacant spaces in Meriden.”
Joseph Feest, the city’s economic development director, said there are “a lot” of projects that could be helped. “The updating they need is code enforcement, which is very expensive,” he said.
Greater incentives will be given to buildings in the Transit Oriented Development district. Grants would also be provided to start-up businesses and businesses that are minority owned and those owned by socially disadvantaged parties, according to a recent Record-Journal story.
The committee approved an amended version of the proposal, one that requires applicants in the inner city district to give a 25% match to city funding. For projects outside the district, the match would be 50%.
This program could go a long way. Thomas Welsh, president of the Meriden Economic Development Corporation, said “it was the primary problem we ran into downtown. We were introducing potential landlords and tenants to our downtown and they were finding out that there was such a large amount of money needed in order to fill out old buildings. It was a real disincentive.”
Now there’s a chance to remedy that issue, and the city is poised to take advantage of the opportunity. A better downtown should ensue.