Michigan West Coast Chamber foundation announces downtown relief fund

A relief fund has been set up to offer grants of up to $10,000 to businesses in downtown Holland and Zeeland that have been struggling in the wake of the pandemic.

The grants are coming from the chamber’s newly created Holland-Zeeland Downtown Relief Fund. It was created by the Michigan West Coast Chamber of Commerce Foundation in partnership with the Now for the Next Fund of the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area. 

“Through the years, our downtown businesses have been there for us. They are part of what makes our area unique and special. This is one way that we are attempting to help them weather this storm and maintain the health and vibrancy of our downtown districts,” said West Coast Chamber President Jane Clark. 

Created through contributions

The Downtown Relief Fund was created to combat community deterioration by assisting small restaurants and retailers in Downtown Holland and Downtown Zeeland that have experienced a financial hardship and lack of resources to operate as a result of COVID-19. It was built up over the years with contributions from individuals, companies, foundations, and others. 

The fund currently has up to $150,000 available to provide at least 15 grants. The chamber will be working with local business leaders to carefully vet the applications. 

“We want to help these folks make it through this situation now and come out in good shape on the other side,” said Clark, adding that she is hopeful the fund might grow with additional donations. 

Working capital

Grants are intended to help companies that need working capital to support payroll, expenses, rent, mortgage payments, utilities, or similar expenses that occur in the ordinary course of business. 

The grants can’t be used for expenses otherwise paid for by insurance or other reimbursements, or for income replacement payments, such as payments of lost wages, lost business income, or unemployment compensation. 

“Talent attraction and retention is a priority of the Now for the Next Fund, and our vibrant downtown is essential to recruiting individuals and families who want to learn, work, start a business, and raise a family in Holland and Zeeland,” said Bret Docter, chair of the Now for the Next Advisory Committee. “Our downtown businesses are severely impacted by the halt of the economy, and the Downtown Relief Fund is a way to offer some support to help our restaurants and retailers during this challenging time.” 

Application criteria

Applicants must have been in business for at least three years and have a financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order, many businesses have had to close or switch to delivery or pickup as part of an effort to prevent the spread of the disease. 

Merchants within the boundaries of the Zeeland Shopping Area Redevelopment Board can apply for the grants.The applicants must be a restaurant or retailer located in the Holland Downtown Development Authority district or within the boundaries of the Zeeland Shopping Area Redevelopment Board. There are about 145 businesses combined in both zones. 

Along with the federal Paycheck Protection Program and Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program, there have been state grants for businesses impacted by the economic crisis caused by mass closures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Lakeshore Advantage distributed $300,000 in grant money from the Michigan Small Business Relief Program available for Allegan and Ottawa County small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Like the chamber foundation’s grants, these were available up to $10,000. They were awarded to 31 businesses out of 852 that applied, with 11 of the grants going to Holland and Zeeland businesses.

Deadline to apply for Downtown Relief Fund grants is 5 p.m. May 18. Additional information and applications is available in the Chamber’s Coronavirus Business Toolkit at westcoastchamber.org

This article is part of The Lakeshore, a new featured section of Rapid Growth focused on West Michigan's Lakeshore region. Over the coming months, Rapid Growth will be expanding to cover the complex challenges in this community by focusing on the organizations, projects, programs, and individuals working to improve conditions and solve problems for their region. As the coverage continues, look for The Lakeshore publication, coming in 2020.
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