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Business First Grant (BFG)

Business Recruitment Initiative for Over-the-Rhine

The mission of the Business First Grant Program (BFG) is to benefit the city by strengthening the local economy, increasing business and employment opportunities, and animating the sidewalks of OTR.

To be eligible for a grant, the incoming business must:

  • Be new to Over-the-Rhine. New businesses and businesses previously established in other locations are permitted to apply. It is preferred that established businesses are currently located outside of the City of Cincinnati boundaries.
  • Occupy a storefront or occupy other location in OTR that is consistent with the neighborhood tenanting strategy.
  • Sign a three-year lease with the landlord (see note below regarding letters of intent).
        * The tenant and business owner/landlord negotiate the required build out, renovation and
         preparation required of the building and disclose the cost of build out and the monthly rental
        * The incoming tenant/ business will submit a copy of its current business plan to the building
         owner/landlord before lease negotiations will be completed.
        * Building owners and/or landlords must agree to participate fully in the program and tri-party
         meetings will be held between the applicant, Chamber and Landlord.
  • Agree to be open at least 50 hours per week.
  • Submit a complete application prior to opening.
         * This includes a thorough and well-organized business plan with a start-up budget and projected
         cash flow statements for the first three years of operation.
  • Once awarded funds, agree to actively participate in the Business First mentoring program, which includes attending regular meetings with a mentor to discuss business details and providing annual financial statements for the period of the lease.
         * The new business meets with the Mentor to discuss concerns and review financial information
         regularly for three years. As needed, a new business owner may be teamed up with an
         experienced business owner to work together to address a specific need.


2016 Program Goals
  • Promote diversity among business owners in OTR.
  • Increase customer traffic, safety, and return on investment.
  • Support capital improvement in unused and underutilized storefronts for business occupation in OTR.
  • Mentor and encourage businesses that strengthen the neighborhood as a viable and diverse place to live, work and play.
  • Provide an environment for individuals, entrepreneurs, investors and businesses to thrive.

Desirable businesses include retail, neighborhood services, large employers who hire from within OTR, Women/Minority Business Enterprises, and those that locate in an area that is compatible with the tenanting strategy for the neighborhood. Ineligible businesses include convenience stores, check-cashing services, temporary labor services, churches, social services, not for profits, home-based businesses, and businesses that are not compatible with adjacent residential uses.

The Rewards of BFG

Businesses that are selected through the Business First Grant Program’s competitive process will be awarded a matching grant up to $20,000 for furniture, fixtures and equipment (FFE) and tenant improvements (TI). The funds will be distributed through a reimbursement process through the OTR Chamber.

Additionally, the BFG Program works to create a support network for the new business. Ongoing mentoring will be provided for the three year duration of the program. The Review Committee will match the new business owner with a committee member mentor based on the needs of the business. The Review Committee may also refer the new business to local business resources to strengthen areas of the business that present a challenge to the business’ success. A member of the Review Committee will meet with the business owner regularly to address any concerns the business owner may have and assist the business owner in updating her/his Business Plan.


How to Apply

Download an application and submit the completed application to the OTR Chamber of Commerce via mail (1431 Walnut Street, 45202) or email: Applications must include one complete hard copy, in addition to the entire application as an electronic file. Please read this entire page carefully, paying close attention to what is expected with the completed application. Be certain to complete the most current application (updated and posted March 9, 2016). Feel free to contact the OTR Chamber with questions at (513) 241-2690.

Applications will be reviewed twice annually through a competitive process. Applications will be due December 6, 2016.

The Application Process

Applicants must submit a completed application to the OTR Chamber prior to opening up for business. At the time of application submission, expected project completion date should be within 9 months to a year. The Application form can be downloaded at the bottom of this page. The submission should include a:

  • Professional Business Plan that clearly articulates the business model, industry analysis, demographics of target population, hours of operation and corresponding staffing schedules, experience of personnel, marketing strategy, and includes detailed cash flow projections. (Note, click the link above "Professional Business Plan" to read tips from Forbes)
  • Three Year Lease including the landlord’s contact information so the OTR Chamber can contact her/him to discuss the terms of the lease. Please note, a signed letter of intent by landlord and applicant can be submitted initially if a signed lease is not in place at the time of submission. Awarding of any grant money would be contingent upon a signed three year lease.
  • Detailed Build-Out Costs of space clearly defining what will be provided by the landlord and what is the responsibility of the tenant. Detailed budget for FFE is also required.


The applications will be reviewed semi-annually in a competitive process by the Business Attraction and Retention Review Committee.

This program is administered by OTR Chamber of Commerce with the support of a Review Committee to oversee leases, programs and funding.

The Business First Grant program is made possible by the following corporate and foundation partners: BB&T, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr. / U.S. Bank Foundation, Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, PNC Bank, and P&G.

Download the Business First Grant Program Application

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