In a run-up to Economic Development Week, Columbia officials launched a new program Wednesday that provides developers grants of up to $20,000 to reimburse the costs of renovating abandoned buildings.
The program, offered by Columbia Empowerment Zone Inc., is designed to promote the reuse of structures including storefronts and office buildings.
Lasenta Lewis-Ellis is seeking a grant to fix up a vacant, one-story building at 2644 River Drive. Lewis-Ellis said she plans to renovate the building, which she estimates has been empty for a decade, to house the operations of her company, LLE Construction Group LLC.
Grants ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 are being offered by the program, and Lewis-Ellis said she’s applying for the maximum.
If she’s successful, Lewis-Ellis said she plans to add the grant money to the $75,000 she already has budgeted for renovations to the 2,300-square-foot building.
“We had to go in and gut the building,” Lewis-Ellis said. Plans call for new electrical and HVAC systems, a new roof, and interior work such as building walls, laying carpet and painting.
But if all goes as planned, Lewis-Ellis expects to move her company from its current home in the Business Development Center incubator at Benedict College.
Lewis-Ellis, a 21-year veteran of the construction business, said she plans to add at least two more employees to the payroll in addition to herself and 25-year-old son David, who serves as a construction supervisor.
Having her own building also will allow the business to have signage along a busy city corridor.
Besides seeking a grant, Lewis-Ellis said she plans to apply for the Bailey Bill designation, which would freeze city and county property taxes at their current rate for 10 years.
While excited about the prospect of moving her company into its own home, Lewis-Ellis also said that other business owners seeking a grant have to keep in mind “that it’s a process.”
Applicants must be property owners or tenants within the city of Columbia or area adjacent to the city to be eligible.
All applications will be processed on a first come, first served basis until all program funds are awarded. The reimbursement fund award can only be used for the purchase of property, preservation or renovation, and permanent improvements to items such as windows, electrical system, lighting, doors and HVAC systems.
Mayor Steve Benjamin said there’s a total of $200,000 available to fund the grant program.
Economic Development Week will be May 8-14.