85 businesses apply for six spots in downtown Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – There are only six spots, but 85 businesses are hoping their ideas are good enough to land them one.

Next month, a committee from the Downtown Norfolk Council is expected to announce which businesses will be able to move into vacant properties, with the goal to make the city more vibrant.

Drew Ungvarsky is the committee chair of the Vibrant Spaces program and CEO of digital agency, Grow. He said the Vibrant Spaces program is not about simply filling spaces, but aims to attract businesses with one-of-a-kind ideas.

“The primary criteria we’re looking at is vibrant street-level businesses…The award is half off rent for two years plus $20,000 to help start the business in that space,” he said.

He said a dozen people pick who will get to rent the six spaces from the pool of 85 applicants. The money that goes to the businesses comes from community leaders and philanthropists, he said.

“Phenomenal turnout, beyond our expectations, and it says a lot about the program. It also says a lot, I think, about the future of downtown,” Ungvarsky said.

Shopper Pete Copeland supported the idea.

“I think that’s a pretty good incentive to bring business back down here,” Copeland said.

Ungvarsky said the businesses that are selected will get $10,000 when they sign a lease and another $10,000 after staying open for a year. Six existing businesses will also be available for matching grants up to $10,000 from the Downtown Norfolk Council if they bring the best ideas for making their spaces more vibrant, he said.

Some existing downtown Norfolk businesses had mixed views on the program, with one business owner saying they determined rent would ultimately not be affordable for them, and another saying he was supportive of the idea and the energy behind it.

The committee will announce which applicants made the cut in mid-September.

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