By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — More help is on the way for small businesses that are suffering because of the ubiquitous construction downtown.
The Lower Manhattan Development Corp. announced Wednesday that it is expanding a popular grant program designed to keep local small businesses afloat.
The LMDC added $1 million to the original $5 million program, extended it through the end of 2015, raised the maximum grant from $25,000 to $35,000, and opened eligibility to businesses above the ground floor of affected buildings.
Begun in 2008, the Small Firm Assistance Program has already distributed over $3 million to 150 small businesses downtown, and the expansion opens the grant to dozens more.
To be eligible for the program, a business must be below Canal Street, employ fewer than 50 people and be on or near a street that has been closed because of public construction. The business must also demonstrate a negative impact as a result of the work.
“This really will help businesses like ours,” said Matthew Pellowski, 31, an owner of Red Line Studios, a production company on the third floor of 181 Broadway that hosted the LMDC’s press conference Wednesday.
Since Red Line moved from Brooklyn to lower Manhattan two years ago, Pellowski found himself at the epicenter of the Fulton Street water main and Fulton Transit Center construction.
Pellowski estimates that he has lost $80,000 to $100,000 worth of business because potential clients were worried about construction noise ruining a recording. Clients also dislike the inconvenience of navigating the torn-apart streets, he said.
“We want to be part of the rebuilding of the area,” Pellowski said. “The grant program will help us through this transitional period to better times.”
Ro Sheffe, chairman of Community Board 1’s Financial District Committee, has been pushing for the grant expansion for months, with the help of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and others.
Sheffe said he was pleased with Wednesday’s announcement, but the program is going to need more money soon, as just $2.5 million is left unallocated.
LMDC Chairman Avi Schick said he would consider putting more money toward the program if the need is apparent.
Bill Tropp, 51, owner of Tropp Printing on the fourth floor of 181 Broadway, is hoping that an LMDC grant will help him pay the tens of thousands of dollars of rent that he owes.
Tropp said his business has dropped 40 to 50 percent over the past couple of years, and the construction makes it hard for him to get deliveries.
Founded by Tropp’s grandmother in 1953, the printing company has been located on Broadway one block from the World Trade Center since 1992.
“We’ve been through a lot down here,” Tropp said. “This program is going to allow us to stay here.”