Less than $100,000 available to help businesses
Fund Should Have Had $2.5 Million
City Councilor, Business owners shocked
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
The City of Albuquerque has only $100,000 available in a fund for loans to business along Central Avenue that have suffered losses because of the construction of Mayor Richard Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project. And that money won’t be available until March, which one business owner said will be too late.
The paltry $100,000 is a long way from the $2.5 million the city originally said it had hoped to make available for forgivable loans to business owners.
City Councilor Ken Sanchez, who has been criticized for his support of ART, said he was shocked when he learned Thursday that there was only $100,000 in the fund. Sanchez said the got the information from the city’s Economic Development Department.
“It was shocking to hear. It’s astonishing because we anticipated $2 million,” Sanchez told ABQ Free Press Weekly. “We were talking $2 million. You are making empty promises you cannot keep. You are only as good as your word.”
Sanchez added that if each loan were $10,000, the city would have enough money to “help 7.69 businesses.”
Sanchez said he was told by city officials that the city was still trying to raise money for the loan fund, but he questioned the appropriateness of the city trying to raise money to give loans to private businesses.
One Central Avenue business owner was furious to lean that the city had almost no money in the fund and that no loans would be given until March.
“They want us to wait and prove that we have been hurt. I and everyone along this corridor has had a drop in business,” said Patrick Frey, owner of the BZ Skateshop at 3019 Central Ave. NE. “By March, we might not have sidewalks in front of our building. They want us to prove that they made us go out of business, and by the time we need the money we’ll be hanging on by a thread and won’t be able to do anything with it.”
Frey said he was averaging $500 to $600 a day in sales before full-blown ART construction began in October. He said his sales are now down to $200 a day. He also said he was angered by advice he was given by members of the Small Business Resource Collaborative, a group of consultants that was formed to help businesses through ART construction.
“They keep telling me that we should have sales,” Frey said. “So when our sales are off, they want us to discount our product even more.”
Frey said he applied for a forgivable loan about a month ago. As part of the process he had to give the city three years worth of daily sales records and three years of income tax returns. “They make you jump through so many hoops,” he said.
City officials weren’t immediately available for comment.
But earlier this week, the city’s Economic Development Director Gary Oppedahl told KOAT-TV Channel 7 news that the loans would only be available to businesses that could prove that ART construction hurt their sales and that loans would only be available for the period of time when construction was occurring right in front of their business, not across the street. Oppedahl said the business losses caused by the recent removal of medians along Central don’t qualify for loans.
The city had originally tried to raid unspent poverty-relief funds from the 1970s to fund the ART business loans. It had hoped to use $2.5 million in “pocket of poverty” money for the fund, but community leaders opposed the plan and the city council killed it.
Sanchez said he didn’t know what would happen if the city can’t find more money for the loan fund. “They do need to find a way to find more money,” Sanchez said. “We made that commitment a long time ago and we’ve got to stand by our commitment.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press Weekly. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org