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Sonoma may bring back matching loans for businesses

  • 3/3/2013:T6:  City Hall is Sonoma's centerpiece, anchoring the town square and drawing locals and visitors to the plaza for festivals, civic parties and picnics.
    PC: Food vendors were set up around Sonoma City Hall for the Sonoma International Film Festival on Sunday, April 10, 2011, in Sonoma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Sonoma officials are trying to revive a program that makes small matching loans available to businesses in the city.

Drawing from a $50,000 fund, the city would offer matching loans up to $10,000 to businesses for purposes ranging from facade improvements to meeting disabled accessibility requirements and making energy and water efficiency improvements.

The loans would be forgiven over a period of time if the businesses maintain their improvements and remain open.

The plan, which goes to the City Council on April 7, was developed by City Manager Carol Giovanatto and Laurie Decker, who works with the city's partnership with the Chamber of Commerce.

"This is a way to make those costs less prohibitive and encourage the small business owner to move forward with these kinds of projects," said Decker, economic program manager for the Sonoma Valley Economic Development Partnership, a joint venture of the city and the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The city is attempting to restore a program that it operated from 2007 to 2011 with redevelopment funds. That ended when the state Legislature eliminated all redevelopment agencies in 2011.

In its lifetime, the program gave out 37 loans, most for facade improvements, some for building rehabilitation projects.

"It was very successful under the age of redevelopment and we're trying to recreate that," Giovanatto said.

The new program would be funded with a small pot of remaining redevelopment funds. But it would be open to businesses citywide, rather than just in the downtown core, as was the case before. Business owners who own or lease their property are eligible. Formula businesses are not eligible.

At the Mission Hills Mortgage office on Broadway, branch manager Brooks Rumph said the previous program had been important to the business, which needed a new sign in 2009.


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