Grant gives boost to Girard downtown businesses
By Sarah Lehr
Patrick Rubinick, owner of Knight Line Apparel on West Liberty Street, says that for small-business owners like himself, the needs tend to crowd out the wants.
A federal grant, however, will allow Rubinick to install a heating and air-conditioning unit at his store – an addition he would otherwise forgo.
Close to $500,000 in federal money will incentivize more than 20 Girard businesses to spruce up. The city secured the Community Development Block Grant for downtown revitalization in 2015. CDBG funding targets moderate- and low-income areas.
Of the federal money awarded to Girard, $300,000 is funneled through the Ohio Development Services Agency, $164,600 is funneled through Trumbull County’s CDBG allocation program and $5,000 goes through Girard’s revolving-loan fund.
Mayor James Melfi said the city’s downtown is beset by the forces that have hollowed out retail districts throughout America. He referred, specifically, to how online shopping has replaced many brick-and-mortar stores.
“I think this grant sends a message that the city wants businesses to come downtown and stay in the downtown,” Melfi said.
As part of the push to clean up the downtown, Melfi said the city will ramp up legal action against landlords who do not maintain their properties.
“There are a couple of bad landlords who don’t want to spend a dime,” Melfi said. “People should take pride in what they do. It’s not fair to the people who work to take care of their properties.”
Mefli said the number of local businesses interested in the grant dwindled as owners learned the extensiveness of the application process.
To entice more businesses, officials “sweetened the pot,” Melfi said, by offering an initial $10,000 in grant money per business in addition to dollar-for-dollar matching for any money the businesses spend themselves.
Officials also expanded the geographic area eligible for the grant from Interstate 80 to Smithsonian Street.
The funds can be spent on a range of projects, including electrical repairs, heating and cooling, facade upgrades and disability-access compliance. Projects must be completed by Sept. 30.
Melfi & Santagelo Pizza Parlor & Italian Deli, which is owned by the mayor, has received up to $4,570 for lighting improvements.
The Trumbull County commissioners’ office, which is administering the grant, reached out to the Ohio Ethics Commission about the issue. The commission determined it would not be a conflict of interest for a city official to receive funding because the city is not administering the grant.
“It’s important to note that I’ve been in business for 34 years, since before I took office,” Melfi said. “I invested a lot of money into an abandoned building. I think that speaks for itself. I wanted to be treated just like anyone else.”