During the council’s Thursday work session, city leaders debated the merits of the proposed Business Development Rental Assistance Program, which was formally presented to them in January.
Council members mulled whether the program should help new or existing businesses in the city’s downtown core.
The program would allow the Main Street Program to provide rental subsidies to assist small businesses in the first year of operating and would be funded by a rental car excise tax.
Ginger Garrard, director of the city’s Main Street Program, informed the council she’s talked to 16 merchants in the downtown area and “every one of them were for this.”
Garrard said on Friday these new businesses are what will drive downtown Canton’s overall success.
The amount of assistance would be determined by Main Street, and it will use criteria, such as the need of that business in downtown, location, term of lease, job creation and anticipated cash flow presented in a business plan, as merits for awarding subsidies. To fund the program, Garrard has proposed the idea for the city to impose a 3 percent rental car excise tax, which she said cities are given the authority to do under Georgia law.
Other cities that have a rental car excise tax in place include Woodstock, Cartersville, Johns Creek, Atlanta, Kennesaw, Milton and Marietta. Georgia law requires those funds be used in areas such as promoting industry, commerce, trade and tourism — similar to hotel and motel taxes.
Canton has three rental car businesses — Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Canton Auto Exchange & Rent-A-Car and Toyota Rental-Cherokee County Scion — it could tax.
Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood said “we all know we need to get as much business in Canton as we can,” and said that he felt the incentive was to bring new businesses into downtown, not to help existing ones survive.
Councilman John Beresford called the program excellent and said it “doesn’t need any tweaking.”
While Councilman Bill Bryan said he was in favor of the proposal, he noted it was “typically a lot cheaper” to help existing businesses as opposed to helping new ones. He said he was in favor of a program that would also help existing businesses on a case-by-case basis.
Bryan referred to the owners of R & M Hoagie Shop in downtown Canton, who he said indicated to him they are thinking of closing their doors.
“I think that when you get into a position where you start to pick and choose who you’re going to help on a individual basis, you open up a very dangerous can of worms,” he said.
Councilman Jack Goodwin, alluding to his roots in Canton, said the city means a lot to him and his family and added he wanted to see something geared toward helping existing business stay open.
“These people have been here for years,” he said. “They are Canton. These other people are not.”
Goodwin also said he wanted to see the city offer more events other than First Friday in order to attract people in downtown.
Garrard said the city already sees thousands of people come to its events, but there are not any retail shops or restaurants to keep them in downtown.
Councilman Bob Rush said on Thursday that some city leaders want to return downtown to what it used to be, which he said wasn’t viable. He also said the city should help bring in new businesses and the old business would have to fend for themselves.
On Friday, Rush added it would be wrong for the downtown area to try to compete with Canton Marketplace in trying to attract similar businesses.
“To try and make downtown a shopping point is, to me, not going to happen,” he said.