An underwhelming response to the City of Calgary’s business relaunch grant for enterprises shuttered through most of the pandemic left about half of the originally earmarked funds going to companies in the city.
But plans are being reworked to get the remaining half of the funds to businesses hit by the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the city’s priorities and finance committee heard that $7 million went to 2,240 businesses that fell into three categories: entertainment establishments, fitness facilities and restaurants, pubs and bars.
Postcards with QR codes were mailed out to every eligible business based on their business license. City officials said the application website had higher than average responses.
That program ran from July 2 to Aug. 10.
However, not all businesses the city was hoping to help out received the support.
One disconnect identified by city officials was in entertainment establishments like nightclubs, which would qualify under the original program if they had been shuttered since the start of the pandemic. Some kept their kitchens in operation and didn’t qualify. City administration helped those apply under the restaurant or bar category.
Despite the postcards, advertising and other communications, Mayor Naheed Nenshi admitted that some business owners were likely busy with reopening to be able to apply for the grants.
“A lot of folks, I guess, are just too busy running their business to actually have time to even work on this stuff,” Nenshi said. “So it’s good learning for the future that maybe just a credit on their taxes or something might have been better. But that’s hard to do.”
Ward 8 Coun. Evan Woolley said he thought the city had designed the program to have it oversubscribed.
“I think it is an important one for us to talk about, which is when we’re trying to give monies back to people, are we set up and does the system work to that?” Woolley said.
Nenshi said the city was in a tight spot legally for how to get relief out the door to small and medium enterprises.
“It’s extremely hard for us to under the (provincial) regulations and rules that we operate under,” Nenshi said. “Under the law, we can’t target certain businesses; everyone has to pay the same.
“So the only way to get around that was an application-based process, which is what we did.”
The committee endorsed the plan to have city officials recombine the funds from the reopening grant so that the city can provide support for businesses during the fourth wave.
“It doesn’t mean they’ll just hand out money to anybody. It means they’ll design a program that is focused on the businesses that have been hurt the most,” Nenshi said.
Woolley said he had heard from many bar and restaurant owners who are concerned about the provincial restriction on alcohol sales after 10 p.m., announced on Sep. 3.
“This 10 p.m. closure has a massive, massive impact on a number of restaurant and bar industries, and people are apoplectic about it,” the outgoing Ward 8 representative said.
If approved by city council on Sep. 13, city administration will set out to create a business support program to help them weather the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Nenshi said it would likely target restaurants and bars affected by the provincial restrictions and encouraged business owners to watch their mailboxes and city social media channels.
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