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Comstock building owners eye $20K city grant

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Jennifer and Chris Purcell pose for a photograph in front of the former Comstock's Confectionery Building on South Water Street which they recently acquired. The Purcells have applied for a $20,000 Business Improvement Grant from the city to help renovate the building's first floor.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, February 9, 2018

Elizabeth City City Council will consider approving a $20,000 grant next week to renovate part of the former Comstock’s Confectionery building so a local law office can relocate there.

In a finance committee meeting Thursday morning, council agreed to advance a Business Improvement Grant application from Chris and Jennifer Purcell, owners of the city's Firehouse Subs and various residential properties.

The Purcells are asking the city to provide $20,000 toward the approximately $56,000 cost of renovations to the Comstock Confectionery building's first floor, City Manager Rich Olson said. The building's first floor is vacant, but the second floor is home to the Dockside spa.

Olson reported the Harman Law Firm is planning to move into the first floor of the building and bring two full-time jobs to the downtown. The firm is currently located on Carolina Avenue, or about a mile southeast of the Comstock’s building. According to Olson, Harman's lease in the Purcells’ building starts June 1.

The law firm's owner, Lisa Harman-Wakefield, declined to discuss her business or her relocation plans on Thursday. However, Harman-Wakefield’s website states she opened her office in 2005 and works exclusively on family law issues, such as guiding people through divorces.

The city's Business Incentive Grant program is designed to help pay for lasting repairs to downtown buildings, helping bring new businesses to the downtown while curbing blight. Olson reported that the city's grant, if awarded, would help pay for exterior work to the Comstock’s building, including cleaning, repairing and repainting its brickwork, as well as replacing and repairing windows, fixing broken concrete in the entryway and installing awnings. The grant would also help pay for extensive work inside the building, including fire safety, electrical and ventilation improvements.

If the Purcells get the grant, less than $5,000 will be left in BIG funds this budget year. That means other interested businesses may need to wait until this fall if they want to apply for a maximum grant of $20,000.

Provided council renews the program on July 1, the start of the city’s next budget year, the city will offer $60,000 in grants to downtown businesses and $20,000 to businesses outside the downtown. Grant winners have to match the city's grant at least dollar for dollar, meaning businesses that want a $20,000 grant must propose at least $40,000 worth of work eligible for grant dollars.

With little discussion Thursday, the finance committee voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on the grant in council chambers on Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Absent from Thursday’s meeting were Councilors Gabriel Adkins, Darius Horton and Kem Spence.

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