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Austin Legacy Grants target the city's culture, but don't help every legacy business

Austin awarded more than 100 businesses with $20,000 apiece. All the recipients have operated for more than 20 years, but not all longtime businesses could apply.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin awarded more than $2 million to small businesses across the city in the first round of Legacy Grants.

Of 194 applicants, 109 businesses received $20,000 each. Divided by city council district, the downtown core had the most applicants. The grants targeted Austin's cultural industries: live music venues, bars, restaurants and arts organizations.

"It really was to look at our businesses that are really vital to the economy, businesses that have been that have been in business for a very long time and that we identify with the city of Austin and with their culture," Veronica Briseno, Austin's chief economic recovery officer, said.

To qualify, businesses must have existed in Austin for more than 20 years, meet below a certain threshold for business during the pandemic and be a bar, restaurant, live music venue or arts center.

Shannon Sedwick owns The Tavern and Esther's Follies in Downtown Austin. Both businesses received $20,000 each in the Phase 1 rollout of the grants.

"We had to sell everything that we could and we had to try to get a few floating loans to from our new bank," Sedwick said. "It's been a hard year, but we've just been doing whatever we could to keep a little money flowing, so that 20 grand really hit at a very nice time." Sedwick said.

According to data released by the City, small businesses in each district received funding. Districts 5, 7, 8 – representing south, southwest and parts of North Austin – had the lowest ratio of businesses that were awarded the grants. Both Districts 9 and 10 had more than 70% of businesses who applied awarded grants. District 9 represents many downtown businesses, and 43 of the 59 applicants received Phase 1 grant funding. District 10 represents West Austin and had 19 businesses apply; 14 were awarded. The majority of denied applications across the city came from places owned by people of color, according to City data.

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"[City Council was] very specific in the criteria," Briseno said. "Now, we have had other programs that do – that could – apply too and administered a series of relief programs through this time, one of them being a small business relief program."

Across town from The Tavern, Hyde Park Gym's owner, Brook Jones, said he couldn't apply even though the gym opened in 1982.

"It's a misnomer," Jones said. "Don't call it a legacy grant program when it's really a Jell-O shot and taco program."

Jones applied for other emergency funding from the City, but was not awarded other grants. However, the gym did receive some funding from the federal Paycheck Protection Program in 2020.

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"I'm reading the language and get down to the fine print: Hyde Park Gym doesn't qualify because we don't serve alcohol. We're not a performing arts venue," Jones said. "I'm not looking to the government to solve all my problems and come rescue me, but if the place down the street that serves Jell-O shots and nachos is getting $60,000, then I want a little help, too."

The City has a little less than $3 million set aside to provide additional funding as part of Phase 2 distribution. Only businesses that were approved for Phase 1 could apply for Phase 2. According to Austin's Economic Development Department, grants under Phase 2 could get up to $140,000. The application deadline for Phase 2 funding passed on May 7.

The City will notify those who were awarded as part of Phase 2 by the end of the month.

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