Competition to give small businesses money to work in historic downtown Cleveland building

CLEVELAND - A new competition sponsored by Charter One Bank will award Cleveland-area small businesses with thousands of dollars of grant money and office space in the 5th Street Arcades building downtown.

"We're looking for entrepreneurs who have great ideas and want to make something big happen," said Ken Marblestone, CEO of Ohio's Charter One banks.

The competition is part of the Charter One small business grant program and developed with help from the downtown Cleveland Alliance as well the 5th Street Arcades. It helps boost economic and neighborhood development, and launched in Cleveland's Ohio City three years ago. Since then, the program has expanded to other parts of the country.

"We added 39 jobs to Ohio City and started five new businesses. We reduced the vacancy rate in Ohio City by 50 percent," Marblestone said.

The 5th Street Arcades competition began last month, and the deadline to apply is March 1. Winners will receive up to $20,000 to open or expand their business in the historic Arcade building.

"If you're passionate about it, and you're willing to work hard and most entrepreneurs are, definitely follow your passion and go for it, and you won't be disappointed," said business owner Melanie Neal.

Just last week, Neal opened Chocolate 76 in the 5th Street Arcades where she sells a variety of chocolates, brownies and cookies. While she wasn't a recipient of the bank's grant program, Neal's confident she made the right move to the Arcade.

"I love being in downtown Cleveland," Neal said. Her office space is quaint and modest but accented with bright colors on the walls. "This feels awesome. I could have never imagined this when I got started five years ago."

Alan Cohen started his business in the Arcades 63 years ago, and is eager for new business and fresh ideas to fill up the space.

"That's what we need: young people," Cohen said.

Grant winners may utilize the money for rent payment at the 5th Street Arcades for up to one year, purchase equipment for business operations or build out interior office space.

Interested entrepreneurs may apply at . Finalists will be notified on or before March 20 if they're chosen to move onto the second round of the competition, which includes crowd-funding campaigns.

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