The federal government is set to begin funding various renovations in Raleigh to combat the economic losses brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, the Raleigh City Council unanimously approved a resolution to accept approximately $73.2 million in direct funding from the U.S. Department of Treasury, marking the beginning of many renovations and economic aid coming in the city’s future.
“The American Rescue Plan clearly outlines a need to utilize funds to assist vulnerable populations to address the health and economic impacts including housing, homelessness, mental health, and food security,” Mary Vigue, director at Raleigh’s Budget and Management Services, said at a council meeting July 6.
The Biden administration passed the American Rescue Plan, an economic relief plan, back in March. The act, famously known for the stimulus checks it delivered to many Americans earlier this year, has given Raleigh and various cities financial aid to combat the economic losses of the COVID-19 pandemic. The City of Raleigh plans to phase its usage of the funds in order to pay for different needs at different times.
“Downtown was hit hardest by last year’s protests but also COVID, so we’re still feeling that impact.”
“When we previously presented [the American Rescue Plan], we proposed a multi-phase approach to allocating these funds,” Vigue said. “The initial phase will identify immediate needs to get funds into the community to address health impacts, negative economic impacts, and to assist the hospitality industry.”
From the approved $73.2 million, $2.3 million will likely be used this fall. From that first wave of funding, $400,000 will be allocated for light and sound improvements in downtown Raleigh to mitigate COVID-19 transmission by promoting more outdoor space usage. An additional $200,000 will be allocated to fund a grant pool, where local businesses impacted by COVID-19 can apply for financial aid.
Another $250,000 will be used to fund the creation of an ice rink in downtown Raleigh. Vigue said in an email to the INDY that the decision to fund an ice rink came from a study from the city’s Economic Development and Innovation Committee, which looked at ways to improve economic growth in the downtown area.
“The prior ice rink drew visitors to the downtown during the fall and winter months,” Vigue wrote. “This outdoor activation will support small businesses and restaurants negatively impacted from the pandemic.”
Approximately $230,000 will also be used to fund a downtown economic development study in collaboration with the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. According to Vigue, the study will look at more ways that downtown Raleigh can improve retail strategies and other economic opportunities for the city to grow. The study will focus on finding ways to increase diversity and equity initiatives within downtown Raleigh. An external consultant, selected by the city and the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, will complete the study, according to Vigue.
Vigue and council member Nicole Stewart emphasized during the July 6 council meeting that, as the first wave of funds are targeted to quickly address some of the more critically hit areas in Raleigh, it means that a lot of the initial funds will go towards downtown areas, but downtown Raleigh will not be the only area to receive funding.
“I want to recognize that downtown was hit the hardest during last year’s protests but also COVID, and so we’re still feeling that impact,” Stewart said. “My understanding was that this was an opportunity to quickly respond to that initially but also to be able to have funds to help businesses outside of downtown moving forward, and I just want to get that on the record and make sure I have that right.”
To help manage these new initiatives, approximately $230,000 will be used to create two new temporary senior fiscal analyst positions to manage federal grant compliance reports over approximately five years. A few council members expressed concern over these grant-funded jobs, however, stating that the city’s budget would have to take on new employees, such as social workers.
“If they have one social worker that can only do 40 hours but this person has helped people find housing and receive assistance and services, I would really employ whatever we can do to push the social worker part and then we can figure out the funding,” council member Corey Branch said. “We have time, but the need is now.”
Despite some pushback, the Raleigh City Council unanimously approved the resolution. Vigue will present the next update for the American Rescue Plan Act’s fund redistribution in a future work session. Vigue told the INDY that the funding overseers would update the city council on each project shortly. The city has until December of 2024 to commit the funds, Vigue said, and its phased approached is guided on advice of the U.S. Treasury. A further update is expected to come to the council in August or September.
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