Report: Most Larimer businesses that received flood-recovery grants remain open

FORT COLLINS — Ninety percent of businesses in Larimer County that received Small Business Recovery Fund grants after the 2013 floods remain operational two years later, according to a report released Monday.

Forty-nine small businesses in Estes Park, Drake, Loveland and Glen Haven received a total of more than $1.24 million in grants from the fund, which was launched early in 2014 by United Way of Larimer County, Blue Ocean Enterprises and the Richardson and Bohemian foundations. The approach had been used in New York City after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and again for Hurricane Sandy relief in 2012, but this marked the first time it had been employed in Colorado.

“The Small Business Recovery Fund came together as an innovative way for the Larimer County business community to help local small businesses keep their doors open and get people back to work after the floods,” said Gordan Thibedeau, president and chief executive of United Way of Larimer County. “Local families felt the immediate impact of this support, and the positive ripple effect has grown over time.”

The Richardson Foundation and Blue Ocean Enterprises established a dollar-for-dollar corporate fundraising challenge match of up to $500,000. Bohemian Foundation initiated and seeded the fund with $250,000. Additional contributions came from OtterBox, First National Bank,, Estes Valley Partners for Commerce, Woodward Inc., Kaiser Permanente and the United Ways of Colorado Recovery Fund.

“The funding is the reason I am still in business,” said Melissa Martin, owner of Riverspointe Spa in Estes Park, which received $27,500 from the fund. “I lost income and two-thirds of my staff who found other jobs when the roads washed away, and had to do some serious rebuilding of the business. The funding allowed me to do this.”

Of the 31 businesses that responded to a survey sent out by the fund’s board, 29 had positive feedback and two had recommendations for streamlining the process. Even so, responded Marty Holmes of White Elk Visions in Glass in Estes Park, “Please tell those applying, do not give up in the paperwork blizzard. It is necessary and worth it.”

Small businesses were required to meet specific eligibility requirements and submit a complete application to be considered for SBRF funding. An independent volunteer panel of local business leaders reviewed all qualified applications and recommended funding amounts to a steering committee and the United Way of Larimer County board of directors for approval of final grant distribution. The SBRF issued four rounds of lump-sum recoverable grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 each.

“The SBRF was the only reason we could sustain ourselves,” said Kristi Lehnert of Colorado Cherry Co., which sells cherry cider and other Colorado-made products from stores along U.S. Highway 34 just above The Narrows in Big Thompson Canyon and in the former home of La Chaumiere restaurant along U.S. 36 in Pinewood Springs. The company received $50,000 to help recoup losses suffered when flooding closed both those primary tourist routes.

SBRF grants are recoverable, meaning that recipients are encouraged, but not required, to repay their grants in full or in part within five years or when their businesses return to viability and have sufficient funds. Monies that are repaid to the SBRF are available to be redistributed to other eligible businesses impacted by future disasters in Larimer County. To date, $10,000 in grant funding has been recovered to the SBRF.

“We are pleased that the SBRF supported so many resilient company owners who had the determination to reopen and continue operating,” said Kurt Hoeven, chief executive of Blue Ocean Holdings LLC. “As a business community, we have an opportunity to rise up to assist fellow business owners when they are threatened by a disaster like the floods.”

More than 200 businesses and 1,500 homes in Larimer County were destroyed by the September 2013 floods, and an additional 500 businesses and 4,500 homes suffered damage. Many roads were washed away, including large sections of U.S. 34 that had been raised and rebuilt after the 1976 Big Thompson Flood.

The full report is available online. The report includes a full list of business names and grant amounts.