WEST ALLIS - A $1.7 million package of economic assistance programs to boost development in the National Avenue commercial corridor and the Six Points/Farmers Market area was adopted last week by the common council.
The loan program will help retail business owners acquire buildings, address code compliance issues, renovate interiors and improve energy efficiency, city officials said.
"The idea is to create more commercial activity, whether through investment or equipment purchases," community development director Patrick Schloss told the council's administration and finance committee. "Reactivating this commercial corridor is the best thing we can do."
He said the package is modeled after similar efforts by the city of Wauwatosa to spur development in its village area.
Schloss cited a planned restaurant as an example of how the programs can work. The Peanut Butter and Jelly Deli will offer customers the chance to grind their own peanut butter for sandwiches.
Schloss said the restaurant, based on a concept on the West Coast and the first of its kind in this area, will receive a loan of up to $50,000.
The National Avenue Corridor Strategic Plan calls for attracting restaurants and other businesses unique to the area. But a document prepared by the city's department of development notes that small, startup businesses "face a distinct challenge in opening due to lack of resources and (difficulty) finding "leasable" space or space for sale that does not require extensive financial investment and commitment of time."
Yet, the document adds that many properties in the corridor, from the Six Points area to South 95th Street, "have above average costs to modernize the space and meet commercial needs."
In an interview later, Schloss cited a study showing only 20 percent of new restaurants survive five years with 60 percent failing within a year.
"These types of businesses are very difficult to get traditional funding for," he said. "You usually can't just walk into bank."
Schloss recalled how a pizza parlor was established along National Avenue but wound up leaving West Allis, the sort of thing the city hopes to avert.
Due to code requirements, "they needed to put in a public bathroom," Schloss said. "The landlord didn't have money for that, neither did the business."
Alderman Cathleen Probst said redeveloping the corridor was vital.
"National Avenue bisects our city, and if we want to continue to attract projects like the Mandel development at Six Points, they need corridors to bring them pedestrian and commercial traffic," she said in an interview afterwards. "You can't have beautiful development with a tired, outdated corridor to get there. It's West Allis's turn to keep up with the development around us."