The game plan is to get more people into the downtown Toledo area.
There are new restaurants opening, big development projects that will soon be under way, and a feeling that this growth spurt might finally be the real deal.
A new Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce initiative is hoping to capitalize on that, connecting people who want to operate brick-and-mortar storefronts with the landlords looking for tenants downtown, in UpTown, and in the Warehouse District.
The project, DevelUp Toledo (as in, develop), launched in November, and the people who run it will host Shark Tank-like business pitch sessions Thursday.
The formula is pretty simple. A committee will hear pitches from business hopefuls and choose one to three applicants to move forward.
Winners will receive one year of free rent on the condition that they participate in a year of intense business instruction, working with accountants, lawyers, and other experts, with the goal of becoming a viable, long-lasting, successful business.
Colleen Kardasz, the chamber’s small business development center project manager, said private funding will be used to “white box” vacant spaces — providing basic renovations to make a space business-ready. The business owner, the landlord, and the DevelUp group will negotiate a lease agreement.
Tenants will get a year of free rent, but they will have to pay 75 percent of market-rate rent in the second year of the deal. In the third year, the business will pay full rent. Part of rent from the third year would go back to the DevelUp program to keep it going.
“We see it as a win-win for everybody that’s involved,” said Jeff Schaaf, Toledo-region brand manager at the Northwest Ohio Brand Council. He and Ms. Kardasz discussed DevelUp with several dozen participants at a Friday lunch session at Seed Coworking on South St. Clair Street in the Warehouse District.
Ms. Kardasz said the program is targeting spaces that have been vacant for a year or more, hoping the landlords will be willing to be involved in the process. The idea is that some movement in the building could attract tenants to other office spaces. So far, she said, the reception has been positive.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need this in a couple years?” Ms. Kardasz said.
Those who want to pitch a business to the DevelUp team should prepare to share basic information about their business, who the owners are, and where they stand in terms of being ready to occupy a space.
Prospective participants can register online at toledochamber.com/events. The pitches will be heard at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday.
If demand is high, additional sessions will be scheduled.