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ART fund doesn’t satisfy all businesses

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The long-awaited loan fund for businesses hurt by the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project construction was launched this week, but not all business owners along Central are happy with it.

The Central Loan Fund will provide up to $15,000 in low-interest loans to qualifying businesses along Central Avenue. And the loans won’t have to be repaid if businesses meet certain conditions.

Charles Akkad, owner of Olympia Cafe, has been waiting for the loan program for months.

“It’s not enough,”Akkad told the Journal on Friday, referring to the $15,000 cap. “I’m losing $15,000 a month.”

His business is down significantly because motorists and pedestrians don’t want to deal with the construction along Central. While Akkad is not happy with what the city has come up with, he said he might still apply for the money.

Mayor Richard Berry, other city officials and representatives from the Small Business Resource Collaborative and WESST, the two nonprofits that will be working with businesses on the loan fund, held a news conference on Friday afternoon to formally announce the loan program.

The news conference was held outside Southwest Ceramic Lighting on Central.

“We have been working for a little over a year with the SBRC and are excited to start the loan application process,” said Mike Baker, co-owner of the business. He said SBRC’s assistance has been invaluable.

Berry thanked the McCune Foundation and the other private contributors who donated to the fund, which currently has about $700,000.

“There’s no city money involved in this, and the city isn’t running this,” he told reporters.

As the city began thinking about how to structure the loan fund, one of the issues it had to deal with was the anti-donation clause, a provision in the state Constitution that prohibits state and local governments from giving anything of value to a private individual.

City Attorney Jessica Hernandez said the city overcame that hurdle by structuring the loan program so that no public money was involved and by having WESST administer the loans.

McCune donated $600,000 to the loan fund and another $700,000 to the Innovate ABQ initiative in exchange for the city releasing the Historic District Improvement Co. from its obligations under two Downtown development agreements. The McCune Charitable Foundation owns a majority stake in HDIC.

City officials say that while the city has given up a percentage of future profits from those development projects, it was unlikely that further material payments would be made to the city, and the $1.3 million McCune is providing far exceeds what the city could have expected to receive.

During the news conference, Berry said names of businesses receiving loans will be released, though it’s unclear at this point whether loan amounts will also be disclosed. A city official had indicated to the Journal on Thursday that the names of businesses receiving loans wouldn’t be made public. Berry said that even though it’s not taxpayer dollars being used for the loans, he wanted the names made public for the sake of transparency.

“It’s just one more layer so that folks know we’re doing the right things for the right reasons,” he said.

ART will transform Central Avenue into a rapid transit corridor with a nine-mile stretch of bus-only lanes and bus stations. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

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