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(Updated 2:30 p.m.) The recently formed Alexandria Minority Business Association (AMBA) shared frustrations about a lawsuit putting a planned grant program on hold.

The City of Alexandria approved a grant program aimed at benefiting Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) business owners. Applications were set to be released in the coming weeks, but a lawsuit has put those plans on hold.

The grant would have allocated $500,000 worth of funds ot businesses with at least 51% BIPOC ownership, with a maximum amount of $7,000 per recipient.

Earlier this week, engineering firm Tridentis, LLC filed a lawsuit against the City of Alexandria claiming the city is discriminating based on race. Tridentis is a military contractor based in Alexandria.

“This program is blatantly illegal,” the lawsuit claimed. “The Equal Protection Clause prohibits Alexandria from discriminating based on race, and this express racial exclusion cannot possibly satisfy strict scrutiny. Plaintiff, a business in Alexandria who wants to apply for the program but is excluded because its owner is the wrong race, is entitled to relief.”

Tridentis has received over $1 million in forgiven loans since early 2020.

Kevin Harris, founder of AMBA, called the lawsuit political theater, noting that the contractor donates thousands of dollars to right-wing politicians or groups every year.

“Tellingly, Tridentis has hired Consovoy McCarthy PLLC as their legal counsel for this suit.” said Harris. “I think that shows pretty clearly what their end-goal is.”

Pastor Lou Whiting, leader of the Social Responsibility Group (SRG), called the pause in the grant program disappointing.

“SRG is deeply disappointed that our City now faces this legal challenge in its efforts to address the compelling governmental interests of diversity, equity, and inclusion for members of their constituency that have been systematically denied a full opportunity to participate in aspects of economic, social, and civic life.” said Pastor Whiting. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential priorities for Alexandria and our entire nation. This lawsuit demonstrates our need for sustained action.”

https://twitter.com/AKSSInAlex/status/1618298038216445952

ALXnow reached out to a Tridentis phone number but recieved no response.

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Black-owned businesses in Alexandria (image via Visit Alexandria)

Updated at 2 p.m. — A lawsuit challenging a city-run grant program benefiting entrepreneurs of color is delaying its launch.

The City of Alexandria announced the delay of the grant program benefiting Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) on social media, saying the launch has been postponed while the city reviews the lawsuit.

Engineering firm Tridentis, LLC filed the suit (PDF file) in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 22. The Alexandria-based firm says that the program is “blatantly illegal” and is seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to bar the city from opening the program’s application period on Jan. 26.

“To be eligible for the program, a business must demonstrate that its owners are at least 51% black, indigenous, or people of color,” Tridentis said in its court filing. “These BIPOC owners must come from one of four groups–Black or African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, or Indigenous or Native American. In other words, no whites allowed.”

Tridentis continued, “This program is blatantly illegal. The Equal Protection Clause prohibits Alexandria from discriminating based on race, and this express racial exclusion cannot possibly satisfy strict scrutiny. Plaintiff, a business in Alexandria who wants to apply for the program but is excluded because its owner is the wrong race, is entitled to relief.”

Tridentis, which is being represented by Bryan Kipp Weir, is alleging that the city is violating due process and equal protection. The company is asking for the following:

  • A declaratory judgment that (the city’s) Defendant’s BIPOC Small Business Grant Program violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
  • A temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction barring Defendant from opening the application period, closing the application period, selecting grant recipients, or enforcing its racially discriminatory eligibility criteria for the BIPOC Small Business Grant Program.
  • A permanent injunction barring Defendant from enforcing its racially discriminatory eligibility criteria for the program.
  • Nominal damages.
  • Reasonable costs and expenses of this action, including attorneys’ fees, under 42 U.S.C. §1988 and any other applicable laws.
  • And all other relief that Tridentis is entitled to.

The grant website said the city was served with a lawsuit yesterday:

NOTICE: On January 23, 2023, the City was served with a lawsuit challenging the BIPOC Small Business Grant Program. Applications were set to open on January 26; however, we are postponing the application process while we review the lawsuit. Despite this delay, the City remains committed to supporting our minority small business community and promoting equity for all. Please send all inquiries to [email protected]

The city has been set to release applications on Thursday, Jan. 26. The grant was approved by the City Council in October, along with funding meant to boost the voices of minority business owners in discussions of city policy.

The purpose of the grant was to support Black-owned businesses disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Nationwide, Black-owned businesses saw a 28% earnings decrease in 2020 compared to a 15% drop for White-owned businesses and a 17% overall decline, Bloomberg reported.

“While many businesses have struggled and are still recovering in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these hardships are particularly felt by Black, Indigenous and people of color (“BIPOC”) owned businesses due to structural barriers and discriminatory financial lending practices,” the city said in a release.

James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story

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Black-owned businesses in Alexandria (via Visit Alexandria)

Alexandria business owners that identify as Black, indigenous or a person of color could get $1,000-$7,000 in grant funding from the city.

The city announced in a release that applications are set to launch on Thursday, Jan. 26, and will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

The grant funding was approved by the City Council back in October, along with funding aimed at boosting the voices of minority business owners in discussions of city policy.

Black-owned businesses were disproportionately hit by the pandemic, showing a 28% earnings decrease in 2020 compared to a 15% drop for White-owned businesses and a 17% overall decline, Bloomberg reported.

“While many businesses have struggled and are still recovering in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, these hardships are particularly felt by Black, Indigenous and people of color (“BIPOC”) owned businesses due to structural barriers and discriminatory financial lending practices,” the city said in a release.

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A cyclist along a path in Old Town North near the old power plant (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A volunteer-led group representing the rapidly-developing Old Town North will now have paid leadership, with funding from the City of Alexandria.

The group will be focused on assisting the city’s goals of turning Old Town North into an arts hub, amid several sweeping developments in the works there, including the eventual demolition and redevelopment of the GenOn Power Plant.

The city is giving the group $83,000 in  American Rescue Plan Act funding, which it will spend on staffing.

“This grant will enable OTNA to move beyond the all-volunteer stage with new professional staff, and to intensify its work toward its goals of implementing the Old Town North Small Area Plan and the Old Town North Arts and Cultural District,” per a release.

The grant comes as big changes are in the works to the area, facilitated by the same density trade that creates affordable housing to create arts spaces. The move has created some concern that it sets arts and affordable housing up as competing interests.

Last October, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership announced it would be allocating $535,000 in total to several community organizations around Alexandria, including the Old Town North Alliance.

Former Vienna Town Council member Edythe Kelleher was hired as the first executive director.

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King Street in Old Town, Alexandria (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria is hoping to get $400,000 from the state to help with resurfacing — particularly for the city’s iconic King Street.

The City Council is set to review a grant application to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s State of Good Repair program.

Alexandria is applying for up to $400,000, with $50,000 to be set aside specifically for King Street. The grant would pay for resurfacing of the street between South Peyton Street — a few blocks from the King Street Metro station — down to Washington Street.

A map showing the results of a 2019 Pavement Condition Inventory (CRI) showed “very poor” and “serious” road conditions on King Street for nearly every block from the Metro station to waterfront.

Very poor and serious road conditions are defined by the city as:

Pavement in extremely deteriorated condition. Numerous areas of instability. Majority of section showing structural deficiency. Ride quality is poor.

Parallel — and, granted, less heavily used — Cameron and Prince Streets scored highly for nearly the full length of the road.

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Freedom House Museum, staff photo by Vernon Miles

A grant from the National Park Service (NPS) will help close the funding gap needed to restore Alexandria’s new Freedom House Museum.

Once a major hub for the slave trade, 1315 Duke Street reopened in May as a museum dedicated to telling the stories of those trafficked through the building. While the exhibits are open to the public, there is still significant work needed to be done to preserve the building.

The Save America’s Treasures grant from the NPS, awarded back in September, will help cover those costs.

“The $500,000 grant will be used to support the exterior restoration of the museum building, which was once the Alexandria Slave Pen, and the offices of several slave traders, including the notorious slave-trading firm, Franklin and Armfield,” the Office of Historic Alexandria said in a newsletter. “The overall preservation plan for the building includes re-pointing; repairing or replacing windows, doors, woodwork, and wood siding; improving the gutter and downspout system, and waterproofing the foundation.”

Exhibits in the museum include personal narratives, like a man freed from slavery in Texas who walked back to Alexandria, and archeological evidence such as items recovered from the yard behind the building.

The Office of Historic Alexandria said the grant will help preserve the building against weathering.

“These steps will seal the building envelope, correcting and preventing further degradation,” the newsletter said. “This work is prioritized based on a Historical Structure Report (HSR) conducted by SmithGroup in 2021 for Historic Alexandria.”

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Traffic backup heading eastbound along Duke Street near Eisenhower Ave (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 11:30 a.m.) As Alexandria sizes up Duke Street for dedicated bus lanes, a regional grant aimed at reducing congestion and improving air quality could be a vital piece of funding the transit line’s operation.

The bus lanes, part of a bus rapid transit (BRT) refit, is part of the Duke Street in Motion project, which aims to boost transit accessibility along Duke Street.

Nothing is set in stone, but a few of the several options being considered for sections of Duke Street include blocking off sections of the roadway for dedicated bus lanes.

“The City anticipates enhanced transit operations on Duke Street beginning around FY27,” Yon Lambert, the director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES), said in a memo to City Council. “The City began an engagement process in early 2021 followed by the Duke Street in Motion initiative in 2022. Transit improvements are being coordinated with other City projects along the corridor, including the intersection of Duke Street at West Taylor Run Parkway.”

At a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13, the City Council is set to review requests for $4.5 million in Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) grants from the FY 2029 Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program and Regional Surface Transportation Program.

The request includes a $750,000 ask for the Alexandria Mobility Plan, but the lion’s share of the grant request is $3.75 million to the Duke Street Transitway.

The $4.5 million request is in line with around how much the city has been granted over the last five years. To date, a report said the city has already received a total of $87 million in NVTA funding for design, right-of-way, construction and buses for the Duke Street Transitway project.

The grant proposal could be critical to supporting the Duke Street Transitway as the city heads into a lean budget season. Transitway programs can be expensive — a lack of funding killed dedicated bus lanes in a planned West End Transitway.

A presentation planned for the City Council says the grant would fund operations for transit service for the first 3-5 years of the BRT’s life.

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Carpenter’s Shelter has been awarded a $2.5 million grant by the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund, and plans to use the money to rapidly re-house homeless Alexandrians.

The $2.5 million is the largest private gift in the history of the Fund, which was created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2018. The fund has given more than $520 million to similar organizations and nonprofits doing “compassionate, needle-moving work” to provide shelter and hunger support for young families around the country.

“The timing of this is amazing,” said Shannon Steene, executive director at Carpenter’s Shelter. “Our vision of eradicating homelessness in our community is big, and this gift is equally large. The waiting list for family shelter is greater than at any time I’ve seen over the last seven years. This grant will be a powerful force for good in our community.”

Carpenter’s Shelter (930 N. Henry Street) is one of the largest homeless shelters in Northern Virginia, and will use the funds for its rapid re-housing program.

“Through our Rapid Re-Housing Program, our case management team focuses on finding permanent housing solutions for eligible individuals within 30-60 days of admission into the shelter,” Carpenter’s Shelter said. “These individuals receive support via housing location and selection, monetary assistance for deposits and rent payments, and continued individual case management support within the community.”

The nonprofit serves more than 270 men, women and children every year, and the average stay at the shelter is two months for individuals and three months for families.

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Black, indigenous and people of color-owned small businesses are about to get a small boost in Alexandria.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership just awarded $535,000 in grant funding for businesses, and to create two new groups — the Social Responsibility Group and the Alexandria Minority Business Association.

The funds were awarded to:

“We look forward to growing the energy in Old Town and Del Ray, increased prominence and participation for Eisenhower, Old Town North, and West End, and to better serving our minority businesses with the help of the Social Responsibility Group and the Alexandria Minority Business Association.” said Senay Gebremedhin, AEDP’s economic recovery manager.

Additionally, on Tuesday night (October 25), the Alexandria City Council unanimously approved releasing $500,000 in reserve funding for a new BIPOC incubator program.

The program will start in December, and award $5,000-to-$7,000 grants to businesses by this spring.

The legislation creating the program was brought forward by City Council Member Alyia Gaskins.

“This is a great start, but we’re going to need continued investment in these programs and in our businesses,” Gaskins told her colleagues on Council.

Gaskins and City staff agreed with the findings of a 2021 regional report, which shows that Northern Virginia’s 128,000 BIPOC businesses were severely impacted by the pandemic.

The Supporting Northern Virginia’s Minority-owned Businesses report said that minority-owned businesses experienced more devastation from the pandemic due to being “small in size, concentrating in high-risk industries, and experiencing difficulty securing capital.”

Businesses are eligible for the program if they:

  • Demonstrate they meet defined criteria around BIPOC- ownership
  • Are licensed to conduct business in the city
  • Are in good standing with City Hall with taxes and regulations
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Black-owned businesses in Alexandria (image via Visit Alexandria)

At an upcoming meeting, the City Council will consider releasing $500,000 in funding for a program to help incubate Black, indigenous and people of color-owned small businesses.

The funding is considered as part of the BIPOC-Owned Businesses Grant Program, which can then award a one-time grant of up to $7,000.

According to the docket:

Consideration of the release of $500,000 in FY 2023 Contingent Reserve Funding set aside for Minority Business Incubation for programs that support black, indigenous and people of color (“BIPOC”) owned small local businesses that enable the City to retain and grow existing businesses, recruit new business, and/or assist with start-up activities.

The summary of the program says that for businesses to be eligible, they must demonstrate they meet defined criteria around BIPOC ownership, license to conduct business in the City of Alexandria, and compliance with City fiscal and regulatory policies (“in good standing”).

The summary said that grants are awarded by tiers based on the business maturity — including factors like years in operation, brick-and-mortar presence, the number of employees — and the business’ needs. The average grant size is expected to be $5,000.

Businesses that did not receive funding as part of the various Covid recovery programs will be prioritized. According to the summary:

“It is anticipated that the number of eligible applicants may exceed the total funding currently available,” the summary said. “Businesses that did not receive prior Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES”)/American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) grants… through the City (business grant programs administered by AEDP/ACT for Alexandria) will be prioritized.”

The proposal is scheduled for review at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25. If approved, the program would launch in December with review and selection in January and grants awarded starting in March.

Image via Visit Alexandria

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