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Small-business owners want city to tap TIF money to provide ‘survival grants’

“Our ideal situation is to be able to get back to paying people payroll while we are closed,” said Andrew Mooney, general manager of Art + Science hair salons.

Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association
Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association
Fulton Market Association

A group of small-business owners on Thursday called for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to tap TIF money to provide “survival grants” of up to $50,000 to help thousands of owners and employees stave off ruin.

The proposal would require applicants to have a dollar-for-dollar match of the requested grant money in hand. Business owners would also be required to use the cash infusion to retain at least 50% of employees over the next 60 days.

Since grants aren’t not repaid, small businesses avoid increasing their debt.

“This is the moment in Chicago’s history to set the TIF program on the right course,” Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Fulton Market Association, a nonprofit economic development group, said during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

Jay Goltz, owner of Artists Frame Service and Jayson Home, estimates he, like many other business owners, has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of taxes that were put in TIF funds.

“They’ve got the money, we all paid in for that money. It’s not like any of us are going to take the money and go buy a new car with it,” Goltz said.

The proposal has the support of several aldermen but Lightfoot’s office hasn’t officially weighed in, Romanelli said.

A spokeswoman for the mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This is the whole reason it exists,” Andrew Mooney, general manager of Art + Science hair salons, said of TIF funds. “To keep it locked up at this time for some mythical opportunity down the line just doesn’t make any sense in any way. ... If it doesn’t get used now, what is the point of it?”

Art + Science has about 100 employees at multiple locations.

“Our ideal situation is to be able to get back to paying people payroll while we are closed,” he said.

Romanelli praised Lightfoot’s recent rollout of “Resiliency Loans” from the city to small businesses, but said companies with more than $3 million of annual sales and more than 50 employees aren’t eligible.

“The vast majority of small businesses exceed those restrictive thresholds, and we know that the City Council has latitude to spend the TIF money on urgent economic challenges,” he said.

Ron Cain, who heads up Kuma’s Corner, a restaurant with locations in Chicago and the suburbs, said he’s fearful a rush by thousands of small businesses expected to apply Friday for federal stimulus funds could result in wait times of weeks or months to receive cash.

Survival grants issued by the city could help bridge the gap, he said.