The council’s vote establishes $250,000 to start an “Old Town Development Incentive Fund.” An entrepreneur could apply with the city to receive up to $100,000 in forgivable loans from the city if he or she builds or expands a business, such as an antique shops or restaurant.
To apply for incentives, the business must be located within the “Old Town Neighborhood Empowerment Zone.”
The council’s vote establishes the area that covers the same area as Old Town Leander. Old Town includes land southwest of the intersection of South Street and US 183 as well as portions of land south of Brushy Creek and north of South Street.
City staffers would review a business’s application and City Council would vote on final approval.
For example, the city could waive inspection or other fees for constructing new buildings, help invest in new water or sewer lines, or establish 10-year agreements to reimburse a business with portions of increased sales tax revenue, Leander Economic Development Director Mark Willis said.
“It gives us a chance to develop Old Town and also to support small business,” he said. “There are few incentives around to support small business, so it’s somewhat innovative to do this.”
Willis said city staffers could work directly with a business owner and review the business plan before City Council votes to proceed with financial assistance. Or the city could work with a bank that would review the business plan, allowing the city to avoid reviewing a business’s finances, Willis said.
Leander Finance Director Robert Powers said the $250,000 is budgeted in the city’s utility fund in the fiscal year 2015-16 budget.
“We’ve already got a couple of companies … that are interested in this if [City Council approves the incentive program],” Willis said. “If [the program] is as successful as I think it might be in the next five or six months, we might have to ask you for more money.”
The city’s land-use map calls for a variety of uses in the Old Town District, including retail and residential. In October, Willis said he expects Old Town to become a growing entertainment and shopping district for Leander within about five years. If that growth occurs, the city could move its own offices to another area of town, opening up more space in Old Town, Willis said