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Fort Myers Beach business owners share concerns over federal business loans

Fort Myers Beach
Posted at 4:58 PM, Oct 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-19 04:57:07-04

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. — Business owners on Fort Myers Beach believe it's going to take millions of dollars to rebuild. They hope a Small Business Administration loan could help, but there are some concerns the owners have.

There are many eligibility requirements and restrictions and the process to apply has not been smooth for some.

"The application process is confusing," said Mark Marinello, a business partner with HM Restaurant Group, which owns Dixie Fish Co and Doc Ford's. "I think we need more along the lines of some sort of a grant or a matching grant program."

The SBA loan is for both businesses and homeowners. For businesses, they need to have good credit history, show they can repay all the loans and put up collateral. It won't cover all the expenses though.

"The damage was pretty devastating," Marinello said. "I think some people have thrown their hands up and it’s not worth the effort. I’ve heard a lot of people now go through the hassle and they’re just leaving and they’re not rebuilding."

Each loan is capped at $2 million, which some business owners say they would like to see a changed because it's going to take time and a lot of money to rebuild.

"I think it’s something that certainly needs to be considered. There are lots of facilities like ours where it’s going to go into the 10, 20 million dollars," said Matt Hanson, co-owner of Salty Sam's Marina.

We asked the SBA about raising the loan amount. They said in a statement,

The $2 million limit is a statutory limit set by the Small Business Act. SBA does have the authority to waive the $2 million limit if the business is considered to be a “major source of employment” in the affected area, but these cases are rare.

Both business owners have run into several other issues with the SBA loan. Hanson says trying to find Internet signal has been a challenge and Marinello says the process to apply is difficult. The SBA said they're encouraged to visit a Disaster Recovery Center where SBA can help them one-on-one.

Another obstacle has been the documentation needed to apply.

"There’s a lot of information that has to be supplied and when your facilities has been destroyed, and you know, trying to find records and files or not computer network — it makes it very challenging," Hanson explained.

When we questioned the SBA about this concern, they said

SBA resource partners, such as SBDCs, SCORE, WBCs, VBOCs, and Community Navigators can help businesses prepare applications and recreate financial records that may have been lost or damaged in the storm. SBA resource partners provide critical help following disasters including free business counseling services and technical assistance.

Even with the money, it's not going to be enough. Hanson says some docks could cost at least $10 million.

"It sounds like something that can certainly aid us, but it’s not going to be the entire solution," he said.

Marinello says the rebuild goes beyond the structure. He's concerned about infrastructure such as the waterways, but says it's out of their control as certain areas surrounding the businesses are federal channels.

While business owners are trying to push obstacles out of the way, they're keeping their eyes ahead and looking at what Fort Myers Beach will look like in the future.

"I do believe though 3-5 years time I think Fort Myers Beach is going to be one of the nicest beach front communities in all of Florida," Hanson said. "It’s going to be a long, hard road."