Ian Andrews first heard of COVID-19 and its devastating effects like almost everyone else in February. Worried about the impact it could have on Lakewood’s economy, he and Allison Urbanek got to work.
Together with their organization LakewoodAlive, the two helped create the city’s small businesses relief grant as well as designate downtown Lakewood as a historic district — saving more than 200 small businesses from financial burden.
“To us, community is everything in Lakewood. Whenever someone needs something, someone always steps up to help out,” said Urbanek, 37, director of housing and internal operations. “Our mission is to foster a vibrant neighborhood and that wouldn’t be possible without the small businesses that reside here.”
The organization helped establish the Lakewood Small Business Grant with the city and the Lakewood Chamber of Commerce in May. During the first round of funding, the grant helped more than 120 businesses pay for rent and employees early during the pandemic with $187,000.
The program is now in its second wave of funding with more than $500,000 available for businesses in need. The program has become so successful that other cities have sought help to form their own grant programs, said John Storey, Mayor Meghan George’s chief of staff.
The historic district in downtown Lakewood cleared the way for more than 100 buildings to apply for a federal historic tax credit equal to 20% of rehabilitation costs. In addition, the buildings may compete for a 25% of rehabilitation tax credit through the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit program.
Building owners will have to follow state guidelines to maintain their buildings if they want the credit. However, the money they save maintaining the building also helps ease building costs during the pandemic.
“A lot of communities are focused on wanting to build the next thing,” said Andrews, 38, executive director of LakewoodAlive. “I think the places that embrace their heritage and history matters. It’s extremely important that we don’t become a cookie-cutter community and it starts with preserving our history.”
While helping small businesses financially has been a big part of LakewoodAlive’s operations this year, it has also hosted events to bring the community together. They included the Chalk Your Walk, where residents were invited to make designs on their front sidewalk, as well as Light the Lakewood Night, where residents hung lights in front of their homes this summer as a show of unity.
While not a Lakewood resident, Andrews spends most of his time finding ways to improve the community. He started working for LakewoodAlive in 2011 while living in West Park, where he still lives with his wife, Jaime, and children Owen, 5, and Cole, 3. He studied at the University of Mount Union in Alliance for communications and earned a degree in urban development at Cleveland State University.
Unlike Andrews, Urbanek has been a resident of Lakewood since graduating from The College of Wooster in 2006. She lives with her husband, Dave, and has worked for LakewoodAlive since 2013.
Next, the organization plans to launch the third phase of its Warren Road beautification project. The group will begin public input sessions to beautify the intersection of Warren Road and Lakewood Heights Boulevard. The group plans to launch the project in 2022, Andrews said.
“Every day we work to serve the community and make sure that small businesses keep their doors open and that our residents have roofs over their heads,” Urbanek said. “We hope that any work that we’re able to do that’s seen as a success can be carried over to other communities.”
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