Belhaven pursuing economic growth

Published 4:27 am Wednesday, October 15, 2008

By Staff
Finding new usesfor old propertiescould be answer
Staff Writer
BELHAVEN — As the nation faces tough economic times, this town is looking inward to spur economic growth.
Monday night, the Town Council voted to pursue the preapplication process for the North Carolina Rural Center’s Building Reuse and Restoration Grants Program.
The program assists communities in returning vacant business properties to job-generating uses. The grants are combined with other public and private funds to restore, renovate and equip properties — from storefronts to factories — for use by new and expanding businesses, according to The Rural Center.
Belhaven Mayor Adam O’Neal and Town Manager Guinn Leverett decided to bring the program to the council after attending a conference sponsored by The Rural Center.
O’Neal and Leverett believe the program can help bring economic development to downtown Belhaven, which has several vacant business properties.
Tom Thompson, executive director of the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission, is familiar with the program, saying that “it has a lot of potential for the community.”
With money from the program, Pacific Seacraft acquired manufacturing space from National Spinning Co.’s facilities in Washington, said Thompson.
The program gives priority to towns, such as Belhaven, with a population of fewer than 5,000 people, according to The Rural Center.
With the preapplication process approved by the council, the town will take inventory of all vacant business properties downtown and pass that information to Thompson.
Then, Thompson and the town will contact property owners to determine their intentions for their vacant properties.
The available vacant properties will be listed on the Beaufort County Economic Development Commission’s Web site and advertised to outside agencies, said Thompson.
O’Neal said the listings will “show prospective business owners what’s available downtown.”
Prior to receiving funding from predevelopment grants, the town must conduct a preapplication conference. The program’s next such conference deadline is Dec. 5.
With the conference completed, the town can apply for a predevelopment grant. The grant will provide up to $25,000 to help cover the cost of an initial study or other activity necessary to secure commitments from a business or investors. The grant must be paired with $5,000 in local private and/or public funds, said The Rural Center.
If a building is ready for renovation, through the town, prospective business owners can apply for a development grant of up to $400,000, said The Rural Center.
Grant amounts depend on the number of new jobs that would be created and the project’s overall economic impact. At minimum, at least one new job should locate in the project building for every $10,000 in grant funds, according to the center.
The grants must be matched by at least an equal amount in other public and private funding. The local-government applicant should provide at least 3 percent of the total grant amount as a cash investment in the project.
In essence, the town works as the banker during the development-grant process, said Leverett.
The town also acts as a facilitator between entrepreneurs and property owners when dealing with lease agreements.
Once an agreement is made, the town must present the lease to The Rural Center for approval.
The town manager said the program will not only benefit Belhaven, but entrepreneurs and property owners, too.
Leverett said the fruits of the town’s labor might not be initially apparent because of the current state of the economy.