The American Rescue Plan and Downtown
September 7, 2021 | Keith Winge
By now, I’m sure everyone has heard about the American Rescue Plan, one of the largest economic rescue plans in American history. It has a mix of initiatives to help economic recovery and to fight COVID-19’s impact. The nearly $2 trillion plan is complex, and without guidance, it is hard to understand all of the uses and eligible activities for local communities or downtowns to utilize. Luckily, there have been several organizations following along for guidance from the federal government on the uses and application of the funds that will be disbursed to local municipalities, counties, and state governments.
“Municipalities and counties can use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) State and Local Funding to help Main Streets and business districts recover.” Main Street America has been following the U.S. Treasury Interim Final Report along with other entities to provide guidance for local Main Street programs.
There are three main areas for Main Street action related to the ARPA funds.
For Small Businesses: ARPA funds can be used to financially assist businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Small businesses and non-profits, through ARPA, are eligible for grants, loans, and services that include: prevention measures or mitigation, technical assistance, counseling, or other services to assist with business planning needs. More information can be found on pages 34-35 of the U.S. Treasury Interim Final Report document.
For Main Street Programs: If your Main Street program is a non-profit, ARPA allows for its funds to directly invest in building capacity and provide support for downtown revitalization. Multiple surveys have shown that Main Street programs were instrumental in supporting the business community downtown during the pandemic.
Main Street programs became communication tools advising small businesses on ways to adjust their business model during lock-downs and then reopen safely. Main Street programs worked with cities on new zoning, relaxing existing zoning to support more outdoor seating, or to-go alcohol sales to remove barriers for struggling businesses. ARPA funding can be used to ensure proper funding for staffing the Main Street program and assist with direct funding as fundraising efforts have been affected by the pandemic.
For Business District Recovery: The U.S. Treasury identified business districts as an impacted industry, so State and local ARPA funds can be directed towards the needs of the entire downtown business district (page 36). See more details on how the district can qualify through lost revenue on pages 58-60 which it includes employment loss or business income lost. Other qualifying metrics include vacancy rates, rent per square foot, reduced sales tax, or foot traffic. Look at your district to determine what might best work. Estimates are that 30% of restaurants closed nationwide and that may be your indicator of impact in your district. Business district financial support may be used for district-wide marketing, placemaking, and streetscape improvements. Business district support should also consider investing in the future of the district through entrepreneur support, district recruitment planning, or specialized support for retailers or restauranteurs.
Main Street America stated that “most Main Street businesses (73%) were started by local entrepreneurs – not outside recruitment activities. To support business district recovery, municipalities should support entrepreneurial ecosystem building activities.”
If you need help with business recovery activities or support, Missouri Main Street Connection is equipped to help. Missouri Main Street offers several matching grants to provide services to your downtown revitalization efforts.