Colorado offering grants to historic business neighborhoods

Businesses in historical and cultural neighborhoods like Denver's Five Points will be eligible for new grants from the state of Colorado.

Colorado’s efforts to help small business, which have produced a plethora of new programs since the beginning of the pandemic, took on yet another new form Tuesday: An initiative to preserve historically and culturally significant business neighborhoods.

The Office of Economic Development and International Trade announced the launch of the Community Business Preservation Program, which will award competitive grants of as much as $50,000 to select applicants, along with two years of training and consultation support. Businesses and local sponsoring entities have until January to apply together for the grants.

While the state since 2020 has launched loan and grant programs for specific industries (such as arts and culture) or specific types of businesses battered by the pandemic (such as small firms or those owned by members of disadvantaged populations), the latest focus is unique. Groups of two to six businesses that hold cultural, social or historic significance can collaborate with a local government, community-based nonprofit, economic-development organization or business improvement district to apply for funding to help them both preserve what makes them special and adapt to a changing business environment.

Business neighborhoods it aims to help

In a news release, state officials cited examples such as traditionally Black-owned businesses in neighborhoods like Denver’s Five Points, urban businesses statewide affected by pandemic-wrought changes or Eastern Plains Main Streets seeking to preserve agricultural heritages. The program, which comes as some traditional neighborhoods in cities like Denver face rising property values and rents that threaten long-time local businesses, sprang from conversations with legislators about what was needed in the growing number of business-support initiatives.

“Through our work with small businesses across the state, we recognize that Colorado communities are working hard to adapt to economic changes while maintaining their cultural values and identities,” OEDIT Executive Director Eve Lieberman said in a news release. “By working with regional business communities to evolve while also protecting what makes them unique, the Community Business Preservation Program will help preserve the diversity of Colorado’s communities and build a Colorado economy that works for everyone.”

Eve Lieberman, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, speaks at the Future of Work event in July.

Rising rents and changing visitor patterns to business neighborhoods are not the only issues that are vexing small-business owners. A recent Colorado Chamber of Commerce survey found that rising state regulations are becoming the biggest concern around hiring and expansion decisions, and state employers continue to struggle to find enough skilled workers.

How the program works

But with the new grants, state officials are hoping to help unique areas that risk losing their identities under the wide swath of financial pressures. OEDIT leaders plan to select five to seven applications from main streets, culturally connected neighborhoods, districts, regions or other geographically proximate groups of businesses and pair the money with training on how to identify their outstanding characteristics and preserve them.

Sen. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat who has sponsored laws previously to boost the number of employee-owned businesses and boost career-connected learning opportunities, said such help is needed during a time of massive economic change in many neighborhoods.

“When we ensure that Colorado’s small businesses have the tools they need to stay in their communities, we uplift the quality of life for everyone,” Coleman said in the news release. “I’m happy to see new resources prioritized to help address the barriers to prosperity that communities in Denver and across Colorado have faced for decades.”

OEDIT is implementing the new program in partnership with the Small Business Development Center Network and with Energize Colorado. It will host online informational sessions on Oct. 11 and Oct. 30 for potential applicants.