A look at some of the business programs slated to get CARES funding, a whole lot more that aren’t
photo by: Sylas May
Figuring out how to distribute nearly $25 million of unexpected federal funding related to the pandemic can be a bit like standing in front of a massively stocked buffet (remember those?) but having only one plate to fill: It takes a lot of planning, and it can get messy.
Douglas County commissioners have that type of chore in front of them. Journal-World reporter Dylan Lysen on Thursday provided a broad summary of the type of projects that are on the county’s tentative list for funding approval.
But that article was just the tip of the iceberg. The list of projects and supporting information is 801 pages long. When you start wading through them, you realize the County Commission has been handed an opportunity to make a lot of groups and businesses happy, but also may leave several upset.
Since Town Talk spends most of its time focusing on business issues, I’ve honed in on some of the projects most geared toward businesses. Here is a look at what stood out to me. As a reminder, the county hasn’t approved any projects yet. It has a list of projects recommended for funding, plus a much longer list not recommended.
It may pay to be a business in Eudora. That community of about 6,000 people is scheduled to receive funding for a $369,500 grant program that will help business “with losses and expenses they have experienced as a result of COVID-19.”
You won’t find any such general grant program for Lawrence businesses on the list of projects recommended for funding.
The city of Eudora was the entity that applied for the business assistance funding. The city of Lawrence didn’t apply for any such funding.
Obviously many businesses were eligible for the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but many had expenses over and above what was eligible for that program. It seems a difference in philosophy has emerged here. The city of Eudora made one overarching request to fund a grant program for businesses, while Lawrence businesses were encouraged to apply individually. Here’s a spoiler alert: Most Lawrence businesses that applied aren’t on the list of projects recommended to receive funding.
By my count, three for-profit Lawrence businesses are recommended to receive funding under the economic recovery portion of the program designed to help them cover COVID expenses. 23rd Street Brewery, Lawrence Beer Company and Merchants Pub & Plate are recommended to receive a combined total of about $92,000 to help with everything from building modifications to PPE purchases required during the pandemic. At least 37 other Lawrence businesses applied but were not recommended for funding. I say at least, because several proposals involved multiple businesses joining together to make one funding request.
I should note that two other for-profit Lawrence businesses did get funding under the economic recovery portion, but it wasn’t exactly to help cover normal operating expenses. The parent company of Bodytruth Soap Apothecary is set to get about $175,000 to fund a large project to make and distribute hand sanitizer in the community. Ladybird Diner is set to get $48,000 to help cover the cost of food for the daily free lunch program the diner has been providing.
The Lawrence Restaurant Association thought big but came up empty in the grant program. It sought just over $900,000 for a testing program for restaurant workers. The program scored high with the recommendation committee, but it didn’t quite make the cut.
That was the same story for an economic stimulus program the association proposed for restaurants. Instead of just giving grants to restaurants, the association proposed paying restaurants to make ready-to-eat meals that would be distributed to residents in need. The group asked for just under $690,000 for that program, which would have made about 1,500 meals per week for 20 weeks, according to the application.
The association also asked for about $1.6 million to run a grant program to reimburse restaurants for PPE purchases and other type of expenses they have had to incur as a result of the pandemic. That program scored lower with the committee.
Downtown Lawrence Inc. also came up with a trio of program proposals but didn’t win a positive recommendation on any of them. The association sought $145,000 to fund a grant program that would have provided small grants to downtown businesses that had unexpected expenses related to the pandemic. It received a low priority ranking from the recommendation committee.
The organization also sought about $23,000 to create a delivery program for downtown retailers. The idea was that one delivery service would offer delivery for all downtown retailers in Lawrence. It also received a low priority ranking from the committee.
The project that came closest to getting a positive recommendation was a marketing program aimed at helping shoppers, diners and others understand what is still available in downtown. DLI sought about $15,000 for that program. It received a medium priority ranking from the committee.
The committee has recommended that $1.23 million of funding go toward economic recovery programs. Of that amount, almost 75% is slated to go to nonprofit entities.
As we reported earlier this week, Peaslee Tech is slated to get $400,000 for its previously announced program to provide free tuition for many students who need technical training for new careers as a result of the pandemic.
A consortium of the Lawrence Arts Center, Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, Americana Music Academy, Theatre Lawrence and the Watkins Museum are slated to get about $320,000 to help their organizations transition to distance learning and events.
The Douglas County Community Foundation is recommended to get about $250,000 to run a grant program that will fund other nonprofits that are providing services to “individuals and families working in the food services, arts, entertainment and recreation industries.”
A consortium of for-profit businesses in the arts world didn’t have as much luck. A group of music businesses that included the Granada, Liberty Hall, The Bottleneck, and the concert production company Mammoth Live unsuccessfully sought $500,000 to help make pandemic-related improvements to their buildings, plus assistance with basics like rent and business mortgages.
The Lawrence Humane Society unsuccessfully sought a little more than $50,000 to help it with increased demand related to the pandemic. Specifically, leaders said the animal shelter had been receiving about 10 phone calls per week from county residents looking to surrender their pets.
Explore Lawrence unsuccessfully sought about $375,000 to provide grants to 11 hotels that have incurred extraordinary expenses related to the pandemic.
We love sports in this town, but the recommendation committee did not bite on a proposal from Kansas Athletics. The athletic department unsuccessfully sought about $160,000 to help safely host athletic events in the community. The application from KU Athletics did include one headache-inducing number: KU estimates the college football season last year generated about $25 million for the local economy. That’s headache-inducing, of course, because it is uncertain whether there will be any college football season this year.
There’s a lot more to go over with this $25 million CARES program. I’ve already started reading through the government funding section. Look for a Town Talk going over those highlights early next week, which will include a nearly $500,000 campground for the homeless, more than $100,000 for equity and diversity training, and a new computer lending program for libraries.
I’ve got a separate reporter working on gathering more details about the health care funding. That is very significant. As we reported earlier this week, the recommendation includes $2.7 million for a new community testing program. There is much to learn about that, but it is only one piece of the health care funding. LMH, for instance, has more than $7 million worth of projects recommended for funding.
County commissioners have a big chore in front of them. They have a mass of paperwork and ideas to sort through, and the stakes are pretty high for the community and a lot of businesses and organizations.
The commission next meets Aug. 12 to further review the proposals and then will have a special meeting at 8 a.m. on Aug. 14 to approve a spending plan to send to the state for approval.