Free parking, federal loans, local grants part of mix to help downtown Raleigh rebound

Posted January 19, 2021 8:34 p.m. EST

— Despite colder weather, threats of unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, foot traffic is up nearly 90 percent in downtown Raleigh compared with six months ago, according to the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.

Bill King, the organization's president and chief executive, was almost hesitant to provide the updated figures, saying downtown remains a shell of its former self and still needs support to rebound after last year.

"The trend is good in terms of moving upward, but we are not close to where we were," King said.

Downtown Raleigh Alliance is trying to provide help wherever possible, such as providing online links to businesses, such as restaurants that offer cocktails to go or have heated outdoor dining areas.

"We are trying to have as many resources to make it simple to support," King said.

The organization also shelled out $375,000 to 97 local businesses through its Duke Energy Storefront Grants program. The money helped businesses adjust to operating during the pandemic by expanding their websites or incorporating takeout windows or outdoor dining areas.

"It was really meant to help pay for pivots," he said. "Thousands from our little budget is great, and that was a huge lift for us – we’ve never done anything like that. But on some level, the scale of need is still really large, so my hope is that PPP can help a lot of businesses."

The U.S. Small Business Administration opened the second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans on Tuesday, part of the $1.9 billion pandemic relief package that Congress passed in December. The program provides forgivable loans of up to $10 million to companies with fewer than 500 employees if most of the money is used to keep employees on staff.

"We need things like that to get businesses through all the way," King said.

City officials also lent a hand Tuesday by temporarily giving 400 city-owned parking spaces to local businesses in an effort to help ease costs for owners and workers, who usually have to pay to park downtown just like everyone else.

The program started with 100 spaces in city-owned parking garages but had to expand because of demand.

"There are now 400 spaces in the program, 100 of which are taken, and I think there is a waitlist as well," King said.

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