The Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce will launch a revolving loan fund program for businesses impacted by construction and utility work. The launch will take place 5-6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 22, at City Hall, 606 Manitou Ave.

The chamber has partnered with the city of Manitou Springs, Vectra Bank, Manitou Springs Urban Renewal Authority, Pikes Peak Bulletin, Accion Microfinance Bank and community members to provide the low-interest loans to help businesses survive until the summer tourist season begins.

“It can take years for our local businesses to recover from financial downturns. Our businesses have survived fire, floods and the Great Recession. We owe it to them. We need them,” said Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber. “They are a major part of what makes Manitou Springs the truly special place it is.”

The chamber will issue the loans, and chamber members, Vectra, Accion and the Small Business Development Center will serve as advisors. Manitou Springs City Council approved a $15,000 grant to support the program, and the chamber matched that amount to create a $30,000 loan fund.

Colorado Publishing Company Chair John Weiss, publisher of the Business Journal and the Pikes Peak Bulletin, is working on the sidelines to generate additional funding.

Besides loans of up to $10,000, Manitou Springs businesses can get low-cost or free consulting support through the program, Manitou Economic Development Director Natalie Johnson said.

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“January through May is always a tough time for our tourist-supported businesses,” Johnson said. This year, it’s been even more difficult, because traffic to Manitou Springs has been hindered by construction on the Westside Avenue Action Project, a Colorado Springs Utilities pipeline project on El Paso Boulevard and closure of the Park Avenue bridge.

“I remember how those things impacted me when I had Black Cat Books,” Johnson said. “If anything happened, I didn’t have enough money to get through the winter. We want to make sure we don’t lose anybody, particularly if they only need $5,000 to make it.”

Businesses on Canon Avenue have been particularly hard-hit, but all downtown Manitou businesses have suffered from the loss of one-third of the city’s on-street parking spaces because of parking restrictions on the avenue.

“Applications for the loans are available, and we can start granting out money by the end of this week,” Johnson said.

The loans currently are only for Manitou businesses that can document a need for assistance to make it through the next few months, but Johnson said she’s exploring the idea of expanding the program for businesses on the west side of Colorado Springs affected by the Westside Avenue project.

“If the county wanted to contribute funding for those businesses, we could easily incorporate that into the program,” Johnson said.

Johnson sees the loan fund as the start of a permanent program to support Manitou’s businesses.

A committee that helped launch the loan fund also is working on a longer-term initiative to make emergency capital available to small businesses, as well as a program to help them prepare for and cope with disasters such as flooding or fires.

Among the ideas the group is pursuing are working with CSU and donors to create incentives for energy efficiency upgrades; partnering with organizations like the Small Business Development Center to offer training and education to entrepreneurs; and developing a group plan to increase access to affordable health insurance for small businesses.

They’re also looking into ways to advocate for small businesses by communicating their needs to local governments, encouraging tax policies that spur investment in small firms, promoting small business innovation and research, and encouraging the growth of small technology-based businesses.

Johnson said work has already begun on most of these projects.

“The idea is that we don’t stop with a loan,” Johnson said. “We are developing a multifaceted system of support for our businesses.”