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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Taftville yoga studio receives final small business grant in $2 million program heralded as a success

    Neiley Rushford-Snide in the yoga studio area of her Peace of Space yoga studio in Taftville. The new yoga studio received a small business grant through the city’s American Rescue Act. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The Healing Arts room and also Neiley Rushford-Snide’s office in Peace of Space yoga studio in Taftville. The new yoga studio received a small business grant through the city’s American Rescue Act. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Neiley Rushford-Snide and her husband, Ricky Snide Jr., stand on the new deck of Peace of Space yoga studio in Taftville. The deck will be used for yoga and meditation during the summer. The new yoga studio received a small business grant through the city’s American Rescue Act. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Peace of Space yoga studio, with new deck, in Taftville. The new yoga studio received a small business grant through the city’s American Rescue Act. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich ― The award of a $66,967 grant this past week to a Taftville yoga studio to renovate its new home at 11 N. Second Ave. signals the completion of the $2 million small business portion of the Norwich Revitalization Program.

    A Peace of Space LLC yoga studio received grant approval Wednesday from the Norwich Community Development Corp. business review committee. It is the final project funded through the $2.15 million small business matching grant portion of the economic development program funded through the city’s federal American Rescue Act grant.

    NCDC President Kevin Brown announced the grant at the Board of Directors meeting Thursday. This month also marked the two-year anniversary of the program launch that has provided matching grants to 17 new and existing Norwich businesses. Those recipients have invested $5.5 million to the projects, a 3 to 1 ratio return on the city’s investment, Brown said.

    Brown said he was “extremely proud” that NCDC could take on the management of the pivotal grant program and was pleased that the program is nine months ahead of the federal deadline of having all ARPA grant money obligated by December. That gives the agency flexibility to adjust allocations if projects change.

    Yoga studio co-owners Neiley Rushford-Snide and her husband, Rick Snide, said they were thrilled to receive the grant and relieved that the critical funding could save their dream renovation project started last year.

    The couple had planned to purchase the 1,462-square-foot building in 2022, with a $75,000 to $80,000 renovation plan. The death of the prior owner delayed the purchase, Rushford-Snide said, until September 2023, and owners were shocked to learn construction costs had nearly doubled to $150,000.

    Snide is a maintenance worker at the York Correctional Center in Niantic. A co-worker told him that Norwich was using ARPA money to provide grants to small businesses. They called and emailed NCDC and were told the program was “at the tail end.” But they were invited to apply. Rushford-Snide said the application was similar to their federal Small Business Administration loan application, so the paperwork was quick.

    “At that point, we were in a not-great position,” Rushford-Snide said. “This grant is the difference for us being able to survive.”

    A Peace of Space has been operating in rented space on Hunters Avenue since 2012, and Rushford-Snide said she has been involved in running yoga programs in Norwich since 2007.

    She worked for 16 years as a state correction officer, retiring as a lieutenant. During her final year with the DOC, she taught yoga and mindfulness for department staff and and employee trauma resilience training.

    Rushford-Snide said she wanted to buy a building to better plan and host yoga and meditation programs.

    The couple purchased the Taftville building for $92,500, painted the exterior bright blue on the sides and rear and painted the brick front white with a lotus and ohm symbol on the front door. They added a 12-by-30-foot deck on the rear, with a direct view of the giant renovated historic Lofts at Ponemah Mill apartment complex directly across Route 97.

    Rushford-Snide said clients still hesitant to return to indoor activities after the COVID-19 pandemic prefer an outdoor setting for yoga classes and meditation. Indoors will feature offices and rooms for energy and meditation programs and a large classroom.

    They hope to open by the end of April. Customers already are stopping by to see the space, Rushford-Snide said.

    Program praised for proper use of ARPA

    The milestone final grant announcement led to reflection by NCDC and city leaders on the success of the Norwich Revitalization Program, envisioned to succeed the previous taxpayer-funded $3 million, 10-year downtown revitalization program, which had recently ended.

    The City Council approved $3.5 million of the city’s $28 million ARPA grant to NCDC for economic development projects. Large projects received the most money and the most attention: $400,000 for Mattern Construction to build its new headquarters at the former YMCA on Main Street; $300,000 to the former Reid & Hughes renovation on Main Street; and $300,000 to assist the new owners of the Marina at American Wharf.

    NCDC retained $350,000 of the allocation for administration and hired Leading Edge Construction as the consultant to help manage the small business grant program, review business applications and work with grant recipients. Project manager Scott Lessard presented his summary report to the NCDC board Thursday on the final allocations.

    The business review committee, comprising of technical and financial experts independent of the NCDC governing board, reviewed all grant submissions. NCDC used $185,000 to help 20 applicants with pre-application project design and technical assistance. Even those who did not receive small business grants benefited from the technical assistance, Brown said.

    The $2.15 million received by the small businesses will help renovate 88,988 square feet of commercial space throughout the city, representing new and long-standing businesses that employ 118 people.

    Brown said the large and small projects have renovated old mill buildings, industrial space, downtown buildings and neighborhood entrepreneurial projects alike, “thereby creating significant revitalization of both infrastructure and our local economy that positively impacts the entire community.”

    Mayor Peter Nystrom, a voting member of the NCDC board, praised Brown for the success of the Norwich Revitalization Program.

    “It’s very apparent the attention to detail that Kevin brought to the program,” Nystrom said. “And the jobs created show the success of the program. I’m very pleased with the program.”

    With available COVID-19 funds now drying up, Nystrom said city leaders should pursue other ways to keep the Norwich Revitalization Program alive, perhaps by seeking other state or federal grants.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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