Litchfield Park is going back to the drawing board on two programs the City Council hoped would provide relief to businesses struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In August, the city announced creation of a program to provide up to 36 eligible businesses with $10,000 grants to offset losses incurred after the pandemic shutdown in March. It also announced a program that would allow businesses to apply to expand their operations outdoors because state reopening guidelines have limited indoor occupancies by as much as half.
The city reached out to its 90 businesses to let them know about both programs.
The council voted Wednesday, Aug. 19 to allocate up to $360,000 for the COVID-19 Business Assistance Program. The money was part of $738,895 in Arizona's CARES Act funds the city received to offset COVID-19 impacts.
The deadline for grant applications was Friday, Sept. 25, and the council hoped to award up to 18 grants at its regular meeting Wednesday, Oct. 21.
City Manager Bill Stephens said Tuesday, Sept. 29, only three businesses applied for grants, and a fourth called about the program after the deadline.
“One didn’t qualify and the other two didn’t send in all the necessary information for us to determine if they qualified,” Mr. Stephens said of the businesses that sent in applications. The program’s current criteria require businesses to have:
• A physical presence in the city of Litchfield Park with an active business license;
• Operated in the city before January 2019;
• Experienced a 25% or higher drop in gross sales in March and April 2020 compared with March and April 2019;
• Received no other COVID-related government financial assistance from programs such as the Payroll Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan, SBA Express Bridget Loans and SBA Debt Relief funds; and
• Have a current assets-to-liabilities ratio that demonstrates the business can pay its current obligations and stay in business moving forward.
Businesss not eligible for the program include franchisees not licensed to exclusive Arizona-headquartered franchises, real estate investment firms, lending businesses and multi-level marketing businesses.
“We’re discussing some possible options, which will require council’s approval, that may help businesses qualify. We would of course have to establish a new application deadline. We’re still working on what those options might be,” Mr. Stephens said.
While state restrictions that closed numerous businesses and required restaurants in Arizona to operate at 50% of their fire capacity and provide at least 6 feet of space between tables will continue to ease as the state passes benchmarks for phased reopening, a return to pre-pandemic business as usual isn’t likely in the foreseeable future, especially during flu season drawing near, so Mayor Thomas J. Shoaf proposed a program that would allow businesses to expand outdoors.
Many cities across the country have allowed businesses, especially restaurants, to move tables onto sidewalks and streets to accommodate more patrons, something that’s proved popular in New York, Los Angeles and smaller communities like Palm Springs, California.
Litchfield Park announced applications from businesses fronting city streets as well as those in shopping centers in the city would be accepted starting the first week in September, with the council considering applications submitted by the end of each month at its next regular meeting.
“We had a few businesses say they didn’t want to apply because it would have a negative impact on other surrounding businesses by blocking a road, sidewalk or parking lot, so the mayor has asked us to reach out to our local businesses to poll thoughts and interests,” Mr. Stephens said Tuesday.
Peter Mahoney, who owns three restaurants in the business strip on the west side of Litchfield Road north of Wigwam Boulevard downtown, voiced his opposition to Indendent Newsmedia on Aug. 27, saying that moving tables onto on the sidewalk or into the street at that location would take up much-needed parking spaces.
“It makes absolutely zero sense for us. We would lose about 25 parking spots,” said the former city councilman who owns Park Cafe, Old Pueblo Cafe and Pub, and Papa Paul’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta. Other business in the strip include the Lazy Palms Sports Grill, a martial arts studio and an insurance company.
Mr. Schoaf said in August the city would not pursue the program if businesses had no interest.
“Both programs are a work in progress and we want to get it right so it helps our local businesses as much as we possibly can,” Mr. Stephens said Tuesday.
Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or 760-963-1697.