NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — City officials are latching on to a new idea that will help small businesses get off the ground using vacant space inside the Selden Arcade.
An explosion at the arcade in spring 2015 displaced d’Art and several residents in the heart of downtown.
Now, the city wants to set up a business incubator after construction wraps up in August.
“We are going to provide them the opportunity to get their business going, and then hopefully we can work with them and others can work with them to find them suitable spaces once they do nurture their business more,” said Mary Miller, president and CEO of the Downtown Norfolk Council (DNC).
There’s growth everywhere you look nowadays downtown, including new restaurants, businesses, a luxury hotel and the soon-to-be revamped Waterside District.
Miller says with all the success, the downtown area is lacking retail options.
“We would all like more retail, because you want that mix so people can go to dinner and then they can walk and they can go to retail,” she said.
Starting this fall, Miller says the DNC will lease a portion of the Selden Arcade from the City of Norfolk for two to three years. She says about 10 businesses, predominately retail, will be selected to have a small kiosk on the floor inside the arcade that connects Main and Plume streets. The area will also become connected to the Slover Library and The Main.
The businesses will pay lower than market price, she says, while learning how to develop a business plan, marketing strategies, managing inventory and staff.
“A way to help these people that have phenomenal business ideas, but they need nurturing,” said Miller.
Mayor Kenny Alexander expressed concern April 4 about the project solely targeting the downtown district, but project leaders believe the incubator will draw people from across the region.
“I will take all of my out of town guests, and I will show them this is what our city is about,” said Drew Ungvarsky, a DNC board member. “This is the new energy of Norfolk. This is where people are creating the businesses of tomorrow.”
Ungvarsky says other cities, like D.C. and Atlanta, have successfully implemented thriving business incubators that are well-visited.
Miller says the goal is for businesses to attract a loyal following in a short period of time — three to 18 months — and then move into bigger empty storefronts across the city.
“For us to stay competitive and relevant, we have to be going after creative and innovative ideas to continue to progress.”
The DNC will have a call for business applications by mid-May. Miller says they plan to have the incubator up and running sometime this fall.
The city says the incubator is a three-year commitment, at most, as they continue to study the highest and best permanent use for the space.