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Fair Bluff gets $4.8 million federal grant to replace flooded-ruined business district

By: The News Reporter

The Town of Fair Bluff will receive $4.8 million in federal Economic Development Administration funding to build a facility to help reopen small businesses hit hard by Hurricane Florence.  

Final approval was announced Wednesday in news releases from Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The new business district is expected to be constructed in a new Main Street location to replace the one destroyed by Hurricane Florence in 2018 and, before that, by Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

The project is one of 252 opportunity zones created in North Carolina by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. 

“When I visited Fair Bluff following Hurricane Florence, I saw a tight-knit and resilient community that was determined to rebuild after being hit by two devastating storms,” said Tillis, who inspected flood damage in Fair Bluff in October 2018 along with Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and then-U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta. “This federal grant will play a key role in the rebuilding process, providing Fair Bluff with resources to support small business development and job creation.”

Gov. Roy Cooper also celebrated the announcement. 

“This small business center funding will mean businesses in and around Fair Bluff can get the help they need to build and grow jobs,” Cooper said Wednesday. “This is an investment in people who are driving the economy in rural North Carolina.”

The project will construct a 24,746 square foot small business center to enable businesses to relocate from damaged facilities in the floodplain. The project will also connect the center to water, wastewater, and electric utilities, install a new fire hydrant, and provide paved parking, sidewalks, curbs, gutters and landscaping. “Once completed, the project will catalyze redevelopment, promote resiliency, strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment, and create jobs in a designated Opportunity Zone,” stated the press release issued by Tillis’ office. 

Fair Bluff consultant/planner Al Leonard said the town was grateful to U.S. EDA for making the award.  

“A lot of hard work went into the application,” Leonard said. “We had received preliminary notice in January and today’s announcement makes it official. Fair Bluff has got a long road to go for recovery from the two hurricanes and one of the issues that Fair Bluff will face obviously is economic development. The fact that there’s going to be some commercial space developed in Fair Bluff for businessmen and businesswomen to locate in the future is very critical and very important to the town.”

Leonard described it as a long-term project. “We’ve probably got a year’s worth of paperwork in procuring property before we see much actually happening in the way of development. So we’re looking at more than a year away before buildings are torn down or buildings are built.”

The $6 million total project includes $4.8 million from the federal government and a $1.2 million local match, which Fair Bluff received in an appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly.

“The way the system works is that Fair Bluff has to ‘up front’ the money and wait to be paid back by the federal government,” Leonard said. “The only fallback position we’ve got is upfronting the legislative money that was given to us, and we’ll be doing that throughout the life of the grant and Uncle Sam will be slowly paying us back. When all is said and done, at the end of the project, $4.8 million will be expended by the federal government, $1.2 million by the state, and zero by the Town of Fair Bluff.”

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