Grow Tacoma drives renovation

Thank the Grow Tacoma Fund for the wider aisles, iced seafood and taco bar at Stadium Thrift-way.

A year since announcing a major renovation, Stadium Thriftway owner Mike Hargreaves is this week hosting a grand opening of the store at 618 N. First St.

“There’s no possibility I could have done this without the loan,” he said late last week, standing in what once was part of a collision repair shop.

With the help of a $2 million small-business loan, plus around $1 million of private investment, Hargreaves has expanded his original 15,000 square feet into 21,000 square feet.

The space has gone to the deli, the produce section, the meat and seafood displays, floral and so on down the aisles.

“The city was great helping us get funding,” Hargreaves said.

The city acted essentially as a pass-through agency for the loan. City funds are not involved.

“I guaranteed it, I’m paying it back and it doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything,” he said, sampling a slice of mango.

The terms: 25 years at 3.5 percent.

“It really comes down to the creation and retention of jobs,” said Olivia Rebanal, director of the National Development Council and loan officer of the Grow America Fund.

“We’re looking at retaining jobs. We need to invest in small business because they are the job generator.”

Since 1994, she said, the council and the fund have invested more than $12 million in Tacoma companies. She calculates that the investment has “translated into the creation of over 500 jobs.”

She said that her agency “has had a long-term relationship with Tacoma.”

She also said funds remain available for new small-business loans.

“It’s a powerful tool, and we are lending,” she said. “I hear from potential borrowers who are unable to find a lending institution, and our volume continues to grow.”

Nationwide, the fund counts a current lending portfolio of more than $100 million, she said.

Along with the Grow Tacoma Fund, she said the region also supports the Grow Seattle Fund and the Grow King County Fund.

One of the best known recipients of funding was the Sheraton Tacoma Hotel – now Hotel Murano – which was built with the help of a loan.

“It is part of a long-standing relationship with Tacoma,” Rebanal said. “We and the National Development Council have played roles as advisors and consultants, and we have been able to think creatively with the city. They know our work and they rely on our expertise. I know there are small businesses out there that need access to capital.”

Other businesses that have recently benefited from the fund include Hughes Group, which contracts services to the Department of Defense, and the web-design firm Artifex.

Only businesses located within the city limits are eligible to apply for the loans, Rebanal said.

“We are using the National Development Council to leverage our local dollars,” said Bob Levin, private capital division manager at the city’s Community and Economic Development office.

As loans are repaid, the money goes into a revolving fund. As the fund grows, new loans are made – once they are approved – on a first-come, first-served basis.

“It’s an extremely important tool, especially given today’s economic climate,” Levin said.

“It’s not a city grant,” he emphasized. “It’s a Small Business Administration loan. It’s federal dollars that we pass-through, as a conduit. We’re the steward of those dollars. We loan them out. We get them repaid to keep that fund alive.”

In the same way that the Grow Tacoma Fund is meant to fuel local growth, so does Hargreaves mean to fuel Tacoma palates and local purveyors.

Hence the organic eggs come from Sweet Valley Farm, located out along River Road.

“I’m really happy that we can do what we wanted to do,” Hargreaves said. “Part of that is having the ability to buy from our community. It’s us taking care of each other.”