City Community Development Manager Jonathan Kerns spoke before the Hagerstown City Council during a work session to seek direction in accepting the USDA’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant, which eluded the city a year ago.
The council gave Kerns the go-ahead to proceed.
“It’s a very large sum of money,” Kerns said. “Anything we can do to ease some of the costs to our local budget is very helpful.”
In March 2011, the city council gave its approval to apply for the grant to help transform the former CVS building at 60 W. Washington St. into a business incubator, but it was not selected for funding when the federal agency selected a project last fall, Kerns said.
Based on suggestions from USDA staff, the city reduced the amount of funding it was requesting and made a few small changes in its application.
Those changes proved beneficial, and now the city can proceed with building out the roughly 2,800-square-foot space aimed at helping new businesses get off the ground.
“The grant application took quite a few months to put together, and here we are now finally seeing things come to fruition,” Kerns said. “The grant funding that we’ve received will basically all be for construction costs, fit-out costs, equipment, furnishings for the incubator space, which at this point in time is just a large shell space.”
No matching funds will be required with the grant due to the money that the city has spent in acquiring the property and improvements made to the property, Kerns said.
Two anchor tenants — Think ReInk in the front and the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown in the rear — occupy space in the building, and the remaining area will be built into suites for businesses in the incubator.
Kerns said he was unsure how many businesses could be accomodated at this time, since architectural plans have not been finalized.
Planning for the incubator began almost two years ago. The building has been outfitted with utility systems inside, and now needs to have incubator space constructed, Kerns said, which should be covered by the money received in the grant.
City staff now can begin working to finalize various aspects of the program’s implementation, Kerns said, including development of the incubator program guidelines, follow-up with Frostburg State University’s interest in leasing space and outreach to other potential partners in the project.