Jan 12, 2023 - Politics

San Antonio businesses near road work to get aid

Illustration of a shrugging emoji wearing a hard hat.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

After months of outcry that San Antonio leaders aren't doing enough to support local businesses affected by ongoing construction on more than a dozen streets, the city will offer the businesses grants of up to $35,000.

Driving the news: The City Council discussed the grant program yesterday, when officials publicly revealed it.

  • Councilmembers supported moving forward with the program, despite some questions about the best way to distribute the money.

Why it matters: Some local businesses were just recovering from the pandemic. Then the city tore up the street outside their front doors, leaving would-be customers unsure whether the businesses were still open, or unwilling to navigate through the mess.

  • Mayor Ron Nirenberg and District 1 Councilmember Mario Bravo have taken heat from business owners who say the city is responsible for their downturn in sales.

The big picture: The city must keep up with repairs to streets and sidewalks as San Antonio continues to grow rapidly.

Yes, but: City leaders have to do better when it comes to communicating with business owners and residents about construction, City Manager Erik Walsh told reporters yesterday.

  • "We are certainly sensitive to the inconveniences," Walsh said. "And we've got to do a better job on that front in terms of communicating."

Context: Last month, a council committee discussed using $400,000 on marketing, signs and other strategies to let customers know businesses are open during construction.

  • Business owners blasted the plan.
  • "The nickels and dimes you're throwing at us to put signs up — how does that make any sense at all," Augustine Cortez Jr., owner of Augie's Alamo City BBQ on Broadway, told councilmembers. "We're going broke, losing our income. I'm losing my livelihood."
  • Councilmembers responded by saying the city needed to offer direct aid to business owners, who have been asking for such relief.

Details: The $2.25 million in the grant program is from the city's American Rescue Plan Act dollars. That's the federal COVID-19 relief law from March 2021.

  • The grants will come from a portion of the money the City Council already budgeted to support small businesses.
  • To be eligible, businesses must show a net revenue loss of at least $10,000 in 2022 compared to 2021.
  • They must also be located in one of 15 qualified city construction zones, which include high-profile areas like Broadway Street downtown and North St. Mary's Street.
  • The minimum grant award is $10,000. Somewhere between 60 and 80 businesses could receive grants, Brenda Hicks-Sorensen, director of the city's Economic Development Department, told reporters.
  • Owners can use the grant to cover payroll, benefits, rent, mortgage and more.

What's next: The city is ready to get the program moving today, Walsh said. The City Council doesn't need to take a final vote because members already budgeted the federal funds for small businesses.

  • The application window is planned for mid- to late-February.
  • The city could then award grants as soon as March and April.

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