Grant jumpstarts Belhaven business

Published 12:16 am Thursday, July 7, 2011

A grant awarded by a state-funded, private nonprofit points toward a new use for a vacant building on Pamlico Street in Belhaven, officials said.

The building targeted for renovations once housed the Helmsman restaurant.

The $88,000 grant was awarded to the Town of Belhaven by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center in Raleigh.

The grant award was one of 19 recently announced by the Rural Center, which said the funds to be granted total $3.4 million.

The grants will lead to the creation of 273 new jobs in 15 counties and “clean water in rural counties,” reads a Rural Center news release.

The town will receive the $88,000, but it won’t be required to post the 50-percent match called for under the Rural Center’s building-reuse grant stipulations, according to Town Manager Guinn Leverett.

“We have a role to play, but it’s more we’re the state’s bank in this case,” Leverett said.

The grant will help fund the renovation of the building, which will become the Tavern at Jack’s Neck, a combination tavern-pizza parlor, explained Jimmie Southerland, a partner in the venture with her husband, Doug Southerland.

The initiative will create 11 jobs, the Rural Center said.

Jack’s Neck is an old, historic name for Belhaven, Southerland said.

“It’s definitely going to have a nautical feel to it,” she shared. “We’re trying to bring some history back into the building.”

The Southerlands are fronting the 50-percent match of the Rural Center’s grant, she confirmed.

Among the new restaurant’s features will be two private dining rooms, a boardroom-like setup with a long table and chairs, a large bar with a tavern atmosphere and a rooftop dining area with a water view, Southerland said.

“It’s just going to kind of be a fun place to gather and sit and play cards and eat pizza or whatever else you want to do,” she commented.

Garnet Bass is director of communications for the Rural Center.

The grants, made public last week, are competitive, Bass related.

“It’s an open application process,” she said. “We have our rules and applications posted online, and we have at different times held regional meetings to help communities understand the application process, and we have people who can help them with it, too.”

Applicants are judged on how well they meet the grant criteria, Bass said.

The recipients are selected by the Rural Center’s board.

“Our programs generally fund only half of a project,” Bass explained, adding the beneficiary of the grant puts up the 50-percent match.

The projected job-creation numbers are provided by the applicant, she said.

“The jobs have to be created within two years of the grant award, and they are verified by — generally it’s like the human resources office at the business or businesses that create the jobs,” Bass continued.

The grants do have a clawback provision, and the recipient would have to repay the Rural Center a certain amount through the town on a prorated basis for every promised job that isn’t created, Bass said.

The Rural Center is funded by appropriations from the N.C. General Assembly.

Jimmie Southerland, who described herself and her husband as small-business owners, said the couple hadn’t undertaken a project of this type before. They weren’t sure of a start date for the renovation.

“We’ll be starting as soon as possible,” she said, adding they were in Raleigh working on the grant process.

“And we thought we were going to Belhaven to retire,” she said.