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Greensboro is getting millions in COVID-19 relief funds. Now, how should it be spent?
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Greensboro is getting millions in COVID-19 relief funds. Now, how should it be spent?

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GREENSBORO — The city has five years to spend $60 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds, but officials aren’t waiting to look for groups and projects that need money.

So beginning in October, the city will ask nonprofits and businesses affected by the pandemic to file applications to request their share.

The process to review those applications for American Rescue Plan money will take at least five months and could cover a range of projects from affordable housing to maintaining or expanding city buildings and programs.

Assistant City Manager Larry Davis told the City Council in an unusual Friday afternoon work session that many residents have already offered suggestions on how to spend the money. Their top priorities have ranged from improving equity for low-income residents to creating “transformative” projects.

More than 800 people have logged in to the city website to offer their preferences, Davis said.

Housing, workforce development and assistance to businesses are among the programs that can boost equity, according to Davis’ presentation.

But “transformative” projects need to have a wider focus. They can include, for example, broadband internet for the entire city and other ambitious efforts.

“There might ultimately be only one or two projects to come out of this,” Davis said. “But they’re gonna be big. These are things that people are going to be talking about for years to come.”

But first, there needs to be agreement on where the money should go.

“I like your emphasis on community,” Councilwoman Sharon Hightower said to Davis during the presentation. “Too often we say we want to help the community and make changes in our community, but we don’t. We’re not intentional about those efforts. And I think this is a way to do that.”

Major cities in North Carolina are handling the money in different ways.

Davis said that Charlotte, for example, has already allocated half of its money in specific categories such as homelessness and workforce development.

Greensboro hasn’t allocated much of the money yet. So far, about $860,000 has gone to the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts, which was about to open its doors when the pandemic began. The venue only recently opened after being poised and ready for 18 months.

The city’s formal application process will begin Oct. 1 and end Nov. 5. Officials will spend the remainder of the year evaluating requests.

Davis said city officials will also attend meetings that Guilford County is holding this month to find out how residents want to spend the more than $100 million the county will receive from the same program.

Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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