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MMA Innovation Award winner, From The Beacon, February 2019
Facing an increase in commercial vacancies in its downtown, Taunton developed a rental assistance program for new businesses located in its Business Improvement District to help fill those vacancies, spur the local economy, and help new businesses get off the ground.
Since the program started in March 2016, 13 new businesses have enrolled in the program, according to Mayor Thomas Hoye, reducing the number of vacant storefronts while increasing property owner engagement and investment in the business district.
“It gives young business entrepreneurs a little bit of a leg up in trying to achieve their dream of owning their own business,” Hoye said. “It’s something we’re proud of and something that seems to have caught on in other places. Other communities have called just in the past two weeks regarding the program.”
The program is allocated $50,000 per year by the City Council. Businesses deemed eligible by the City’s Office of Economic and Community Development receive subsidized rent in the amount of $5 per square foot, up to $5,000, in the business’s first year of operation and $2.50 per square foot up to $2,500 in the second year.
For instance, according to materials provided by Economic and Community Development Executive Director Kevin Shea, a 1,900 square-foot property renting for $1,500 per month pays $18,000 per year in rent. In its first year, the $5 per square foot subsidy equals $9,500, exceeding the $5,000 cap. So a new business in the space would be reimbursed $791.67 per month for the first six months, then $249.98 in the seventh month to reach the $5,000 cap.
Eligible businesses must be for-profit, new to the downtown area, and have a minimum two-year lease agreement with the property owner. The rent cannot exceed the amount charged to the previous tenant, unless the particular property has sat vacant for more than one year.