Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. (ABI) and The Village Market (TVM) announced Friday that the companies will be joining forces to launch BeltLine MarketPlace. This pilot program will provide new, affordable commercial opportunities for up to six local, Black-owned businesses with storefronts directly on the multi-use trail as part of ABI’s first small business incubator.
Supported by a $750,000 grant from the Kendeda Fund, this pilot program aims to “connect communities like never before,” according to Friday’s announcement.
Architecturally designed, artistic shipping containers and possible food trucks will pop up in two locations along the Westside and Eastside Trails as part of this pilot program, giving entrepreneurs direct access to the Atlanta BeltLine’s roughly two million annual visitors. In addition to providing fully built-out commercial spaces at an affordable rate, ABI is committed to a unique partnership with The Village Market to provide the entrepreneurs full wrap-around services before, during, and after the inaugural season from late spring/early summer to November 2022.
“With new funding, ABI is developing and advancing commercial affordability strategies aimed at stabilizing, preserving, and creating affordable spaces so that Black-owned, legacy, small, and local businesses can grow and flourish around the 22-mile loop,” Clyde Higgs, president and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc, said. “Providing access to the well-traveled BeltLine corridor is one avenue to connect businesses with new economic opportunities.”
Through living its signature phrase, “Support is a Verb,” The Village Market connects Black owned businesses to dedicated community partners, like ABI, as a way to tackle racial wealth gap issues, according to a press release.
BeltLine MarketPlace is one strategy targeted toward closing the wealth gap between Black-owned businesses and other minority- and white-owned businesses. According to the Prosperity Now report, Atlanta’s Black businesses are valued at $58,085 compared to Latinx businesses at $457,877 and white businesses at $658,264. Additionally, 92 percent of Black-owned firms reported experiencing financial challenges since COVID-19 and only 43 percent received all PPP funding requested, compared to 79 percent of white-owned firms, according to the Federal Reserve Bank.
“This collaboration ensures economic mobility, accessibility, and a progressive way forward as the BeltLine begins to nurture relationships with local, independently owned, Black-owned businesses that have been displaced due to the surge in commercial rents,” Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, founder and CEO of The Village Market, said. “It’s imperative that local, Black-owned businesses can stay in the communities where they have always been – sharing in economic prosperity,”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly half of small businesses succeed past five years. Studies have shown that some of the biggest barriers to success for Black entrepreneurs is access to capital, resources, and expertise; access to customers; and rising lease rates. BeltLine MarketPlace is removing these barriers by absorbing the cost of building out the space, by locating businesses directly on the Atlanta BeltLine and providing affordable lease rates that are below market.
Potential businesses could include retail, soft goods, food-based, or arts-centered ventures. They will operate out of the containers or on an adjacent food truck pad seasonally from spring to the end of November. The commercial spaces are being implemented by Atelier 7, a Black-owned architectural design firm and leading local expert specializing in shipping container, modular systems, and pre-fab building systems for bespoke mixed-use, residential, and adaptive reuse projects.
Taking into account lessons learned from the pilot, BeltLine MarketPlace anticipates growing in scope to include businesses of all backgrounds and more locations around the Atlanta BeltLine loop. Dedicated funding from the Kendeda Fund will enable scaling as part of the grant.
As the program is scaled, it will become an opportunity for entrepreneurs to gain immediate access to BeltLine foot traffic to launch a new product; for existing businesses to test new products and services; for southside and westside businesses to gain new markets and awareness on the eastside for their brands; and for residents on the southside and westside to have access to new amenities in their communities.
Applications for the BeltLine MarketPlace are now open. Interested businesses should apply at www.beltline.org/marketplace. Applications are due April 15, 2022, with the opening of the pilot program anticipated in late spring/early summer.