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D.C. To Provide $100M In Grants To Hotel, Retail Businesses

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Mayor Muriel Bowser speaking at the New Year New Housing event Jan. 17.

The D.C. government is stepping in to help struggling hotel and retail businesses as the spike in coronavirus cases further damages their revenues. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser Wednesday announced the launch of the $100M Bridge Fund, which will provide grants to an estimated 1,800 businesses in the District. 

The grants will be split among four categories: $35M to restaurants, $30M to hotels, $20M to entertainment and $15M to retail. 

The restaurant grants will range from $10K to $50K and could reach up to 700 businesses. The hotel grants will range from $10,830 to $270,750 for up to 140 hotels. The entertainment grants will be between $4K and $100K and reach up to 400 venues. The retail grants will reach up to 575 businesses with awards ranging from $5K to $25K. 

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, D.C. businesses in the hospitality, entertainment, and retail sectors have made tremendous sacrifices to help us protect residents by combating and containing this virus,” Bowser said in a release. “We remain committed to providing the support and resources that will help them get through these challenging times and eventually cross the bridge to normalcy.”  

The launch comes after the D.C. Council passed a bill in July, introduced by Council Member Kenyan McDuffie, to use CARES Act funds to provide $100M in COVID-19 relief. 

The program modified McDuffie's proposal and will pull roughly $20M from the CARES Act funds and $80M from local reserves, Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio told the Washington Business Journal

Applications for the hotel grants will open Monday, followed by the restaurant, retail and entertainment grants in December. The hotel grants are available to hotels with at least 10 rooms, including those that have been temporarily closed. 

Donohoe Hospitality President Thomas Penny, whose firm owns at least three hotels in the District, told Bisnow he plans to apply for the grants immediately.

"It's going to allow for us to keep our employees working through the holidays," Penny said. "It's a big deal to us because people represent the heartbeat of our business, and we want to see them through this, and this is going to help us do that for more people than we would otherwise."

Penny said the grants come at a much-needed time, as hotel demand has dropped precipitously in recent weeks. He said hotel occupancies have fallen by at least 33% from October to November, and in some hotels occupancy rates are below 10%.

He attributed the drop to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases across the country leading people to stop traveling. New daily U.S. cases have risen by more than 20% over the last week, with more than 160,000 new cases reported Wednesday, according to the Washington Post

This spike in cases has further depressed hotel revenues, Penny said, and he hopes a vaccine can lead to a significant increase in demand by Q2 or Q3. He said the grants will help more hotels survive to that point. 

"At a time when we're seeing more hotels run the risk of foreclosure and also run the risk of having to be sold because they're running out of money, at a time when that's happening, I'm proud to see the leadership of the mayor and Council Member McDuffie and the rest of the council," Penny said.