Tampa re-ups fund to help small businesses

The city of Tampa is expanding access to its coronavirus relief grant for small businesses.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, florist Christine Vasconcelo said her business became a luxury.

“I don't even know what business really hasn't suffered a loss,” said Vasconcelo, owner of Bloomingday’s Flower Shop on Florida Avenue in Tampa.

She applied for the city’s One Tampa: Relief Now, Rise Together grant for small businesses.

But after she overcame problems uploading forms a few weeks ago, she said her initial application was declined.

“Every time I would go to submit, it would say something was missing,” said Vasconcelo, who added she eventually was able to finish the application submission. “I logged on today and it says ‘declined.’ I'm like 'Why?' So I sent a message saying I’d like to know why I was declined. I thought I was a shoo-in.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said the grant program will now be opened for a second run starting Monday, June 1 at noon, expanding the requirements to include more businesses.

“We are giving $5,000 grants. It’s not a loan, it’s a grant. And you have to be within a specific geographic area, a low-income Census tract or a community redevelopment location,” said Castor on May 22 during a Facebook live video.

To qualify, a business must:

- be within the city limits of Tampa in that specific geographic location;
- be one of the critically impacted business sectors or were required to close by the governor;
- have been continuously operating for at least 12 months prior to February 1, 2020;
- and must have annual revenue of no more than $350,000.

Carole Post, the city administrator for development and economic opportunity, told FOX 13 via email Tuesday that “any business that participated in the first round is encouraged to participate in the second round, so long as they meet eligibility criteria.”

Vasconcelo said she hopes this time she will be able to get help.

“It's one month's rent and electricity, which is a lot here right? We have coolers that run on electric. So, for us, it's great,” said Vasconcelo.

On the federal level, the U.S. Small Business Administration has coronavirus relief options. And other Tampa Bay areas, including cities in Pinellas and Pasco counties, are offering aid.

Shop owners like Vasconcelo are just hoping their efforts are enough to get approved.

“You wonder, ‘Is it worth it? Should I call it quits?’ It's hard,” said Vasconcelo. “And a lot of shops are closing. We just heard of one today in Tallahassee after 28 years.”

Some small business owners expressed concerns on Facebook about the strict location requirement for the city of Tampa grants. A city spokesperson told FOX 13 Tuesday that they are looking at ways to expand relief to the entire city.