Raleigh, N.C. — While diners enjoy lunch outside The Raleigh Times Bar on East Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh, construction workers are busy knocking out walls next door to expand the restaurant.
Plans include another kitchen, an additional bar and a second floor with rooftop seating. The renovation should be complete in a couple of months.
Developer and owner Greg Hatem says the expansion project might not have been possible without a little help from the city.
"It's still a tough lending environment out there. Banks are very skittish," he says. "A lot of times they can't lend."
Hatem filled the gap with $50,000 that he borrowed from the City of Raleigh.
It's part of the Raleigh Economic Development Partnership's Downtown Loan Pool program, which lends owners of small downtown businesses up to $50,000 to set up shop or expand.
But many businesses apparently don't know about it.
Program manager Luther Williams says that only four businesses have taken out loans in the program's eight years of existence.
Taxpayers have put $300,000 into the loan program.
Of the four loans the city has written, one has been paid in full and payments are current on the others.
Borrowers have 10 years to pay them back at approximately 3 percent interest.
With business picking up in downtown Raleigh, Hatem says the loan program is a success story that breeds other success stories.
"It allows people to get into these spaces where, normally, they couldn't," he says. "And that's at the heart of the revitalization of downtown."