Grant money being used to lure business back to empty Orlando storefronts

Rare Tea is opening its doors in Downtown Orlando for the first time on Friday, serving up fresh, custom boba teas.  

"It is a bold move but it's something we thought would be a great fit for the neighborhood and the opportunity came up and we thought we had to introduce Thornton Park and the downtown area to boba tea," Charity Liao said. 

She and her partners also own Jinya, the ramen restaurant next door.  When they saw their neighboring space come available, they tossed around the idea of opening another concept.  

"I don't think we would have without the city's help. I think it's too risky," Liao said.  

Too risky because so many local restaurants and bars downtown have gone under during the pandemic.  Much of Church Street is a virtual ghost town.

Rare Tea is a recipient of the Downtown Orlando Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Retail Stimulus Program.  It offers up to $100,000 for tenant improvements and rent expenses.  Liao said that’s just the incentive she and her partners needed to take the leap.  

"You're always going to need help in terms of capital and cash flow in a pandemic.  The city's grant was able to help us at least get up-and-running with construction," she explained. 

City Commissioner Regina Hill and other city leaders are working to lure business entrepreneurs like the people who own Rare Tea to downtown to fill empty storefronts with grants and incentives. 

"We have an aggressive plan for our downtown CORE. Called DTO Downtown Orlando revitalization plan and this is some of the things citizens have said they wanted, more small retail businesses," Commissioner Hill said.   

She said there is more grant money available and encourages entrepreneurs to apply. 

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