Charleroi pursues program to fill empty storefronts
Many small town officials strive to attract businesses to vacant storefronts and to grow tax bases.
But roughly seven in 10 new small businesses fail.
That's a trend Charleroi officials — with help from economic development agencies — hope to reverse.
“The goal is to attract new businesses and help them to succeed,” Charleroi Borough Manager Donn Henderson said.
Charleroi is drafting a downtown revival strategy in an effort to attract artists and “trending businesses.”
To kick start the plan, the borough is sponsoring a breakfast meeting 8 a.m. Monday in the borough building at 338 Fallowfield Ave.
David Farkas will speak at the breakfast. He is the Main Street Programs director for the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.
“The foundation has led the way in revitalizing Pittsburgh by combining a focus on historic preservation with tax credits and creative funding strategies,” Henderson said.
Banking representatives are invited to the breakfast to learn more about Charleroi's Sustainable Marketplace for Arts, Artisans, Recreation and Trending Businesses — SMAART — initiative, which is in the early stages of development, Henderson said.
“We'll talk about how the Neighborhood Assistance Program works and how it works with other tax incentives,” he added.
Joe Kirk, executive director of the Mon Valley Progress Council, will discuss enterprise zones.
Charleroi is one of nine municipalities in the Mid-Mon Valley Enterprise Zone program. The state Department of Community and Economic Development-approved municipalities passed resolutions to participate in the program.
Each municipality identified target areas, mostly industrial sites and central business districts, for the zones.
Under the program, any business that improves its space or expands or constructs a building can receive tax credits of up to 25 percent, to a maximum of $500,000.
The benefits are also available to startup businesses that acquire property.
DCED representative Cindy Gormley will discuss the Neighborhood Assistance Program and how it can benefit the borough.
Established in 1967, the program was the first of its kind in the United States. Its goal is to improve neighborhoods in Pennsylvania by using tax credits to create partnerships between community organizations and business communities, according to the DCED.
A project must serve distressed areas or support neighborhood conservation. Projects must fall under one of the following categories: affordable housing programs, community services, crime prevention, education, job training or neighborhood assistance.
“All of these tax incentives are available downtown,” Henderson said. “We have to work to make them work for us.”
The borough hopes to attract business startups through the creation of a downtown incubator-like zone.
New businesses could receive reduced rent and would have access to a support system that includes training, intern manpower and use of borough copiers.
The incubator zone would be downtown, but the location has not been identified.
The borough is working with the River Towns program to obtain grant money through Developed in PA, a small business support program.
Borough officials will discuss the plan with DCED Secretary Alan Walker before he speaks at a joint chamber luncheon Tuesday at the Willow Room in Rostraver Township.
The program, an initiative of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, is involved in conservation of natural resources, water trails and land-based trail development. Established in 2010, it works with municipalities that border rivers.
The River Towns program works to sustain economic development along rivers and promote outdoor recreation as an economic engine.
Roughly 30 percent of the downtown storefronts in Charleroi are vacant, Henderson said.
Prior Revive 2016 discussions resulted in the creation of SMAART concept.
Guidelines were established to attract and nurture businesses that feature unique art, artisans, unique crafts, design, recreation or fast-growing, trending businesses suitable for a downtown district.
The following ideas have been submitted for consideration:
• A panel of established business owners would develop and oversee criteria and incentives for the district.
• Each prospective participant would complete a business plan and undergo training in computers, financial management and entrepreneurial and marketing procedures. Otherwise, a participant must have prior experience.
• The borough would conduct and pay for monthly business coaching and planning events.
• The borough would pursue a three-year period of relief from county, school district and local property tax for participating property owners or property buyers.
• Participating property owners would agree to offer dramatically reduced rent for up to two years. Landlords would offer up to two months free rent in exchange for mutually agreed upon property improvements.
• A component would be developed to offer short-term rental options and make some SMAART incentives available.
• Participants would be offered one-year chamber memberships at dramatically reduced rates.
• Participants would be prioritized under the chamber's Facade Grant Program.
• The borough would work with the U.S. Small Business Administration, California University of Pennsylvania, local and regional funding sources, and financial institutions to provide financial and technical support for participants.
• The Borough would work with the SMAART panel to develop a pool of interns to aid in on-line marketing and promotions.
• Borough facilities would be available free or at low cost for such events as classes, events and seminars.
• Participants would be included, at a 50 percent reduction in cost for two years, in borough and TEAM Charleroi promotions.
Those planning to attend the breakfast must contact Henderson at email@example.com or 724-483-6011.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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