After sitting unoccupied for at least a decade, a Takoma Park building has the potential to help new and local businesses get on their feet, according to an area working group.
While the building at 6530 New Hampshire Ave. — owned by the Potomac Conference Corporation of Seventh-Day Adventists — is “only a shell” and would require renovation, it appears to be sound, said Rosalind Grigsby, Takoma Park’s community development coordinator and one of the working group’s members.
“We’re really hoping that it would provide a foot up for local business owners and new start-ups,” said Grigsby, who added that the idea of an area business incubator had been dicussed in the past by those familiar with the community.
Another hope, Grigsby said, is that the area’s racial and ethnic diversity would be represented within the incubator.
The group — which is in its early stages of planning, Grigsby said — envisions the incubator would offer shared facilities, business seminars and mentoring among other forms of support, according to a group proposal.
“The spaces provided to entrepreneur tenants would be compact, unadorned and very affordable, not otherwise available in the area,” the proposal says.
City council member Fred Schultz said his professional background in community development and observation of an Enterprise Development Group-operated business incubator played a part in his idea for the Takoma Park building’s use.
Schultz is a volunteer board member of the Ethiopian Community Development Council Enterprise Development Group and a member of the working group.
The typical business incubator, Schultz said, “is cheap space that is more or less not particularly useful for any other purpose.”
The incubator proposed for New Hampshire Avenue would provide that low-rent space and the basic needs of small businesses, including those just starting out or expanding out of a person’s home, Schultz said.
As plans stand now, a business would likely have about two years to develop in the incubator, Schultz said, and could include handcrafted goods shops or an accountant practice — but no retail.
“At a certain time, they have to leave the nest, whether they’re ready to or not,” Schultz said.
The current thinking is that the Enterprise Development Group, which already does microlending in the area, would manage the incubator, he said, though that could change.
Grigsby and Jorge Ramirez — the Potomac Conference Corporation of Seventh-Day Adventists’ vice president for administration — appeared before the city council on Feb. 11 to propose that the city help pay for a feasibility study of the building.
“A feasibility study would give us a better idea of what we’re looking at,” said Ramirez, who added that the Potomac Conference wants the building to become “a performing asset.”
The council has not yet come to a decision about the proposal.
The city, Schultz said, is in a position to help the conference find the funds it needs, either from the city or another government.
While the current idea is to create a business incubator, Schultz said, it is ultimately up to the Potomac Conference what the building becomes.
While the conference’s executive committee has not officially approved the concept, it has not voiced any disagreement either, said Steve Wilson, vice president of finance for the conference and a member of the working group.
Wilson said financial obstacles have prevented the building’s development into a sanctuary on two occasions before the conference started casual conversations with the city about the building.
If the building can’t serve as a sanctuary, the conference would like to see it benefit the community, he said.
Wilson said the building — which he described as “a total open shell” and “almost like a blank canvas” — would be well suited as a cost-effective space for businesses.
Jacob Lee, owner of Mid Atlantic Seafood just down the road, said an incubator could possibly help local businesses and provide jobs.
He thinks, however, that if the building were to have a “low-end” appearance and multiple businesses in one location, it wouldn’t be as helpful to the community as an established business such as CVS Pharmacy or Rite Aid.
Having an occupied building on what Lee called “a prime space” would be a plus.
“It’s gonna be good for someone to be doing something with that building,” Lee said.