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Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, right, looks on as Senator John Hickenlooper addresses a group of small business owners at the Atrevida Beer Company Wednesday. The junior senator was in town to discuss the benefits of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a COVID-19 relief fund for restaurants and bars. (O'Dell Isaac, The Gazette)

Senator John Hickenlooper visited Colorado Springs on Wednesday to discuss a new COVID-19 relief program for restaurants and breweries.

The former Colorado governor met with several local business owners at the Atrevida Beer Company to review the benefits of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28 billion endowment created to provide aid to businesses in the food and beverage trade – an industry that has suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, created as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, is designed to be more flexible than its predecessor, the Paycheck Protection Program. Funds may be used for other operating expenses besides payroll, such as rent, utilities, maintenance and supplies.

From hiring and paying employees, to creating space for social distancing, to adjusting for virus outbreaks among staff members, restaurants and bars have faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic.

The relief fund, Hickenlooper said, is a crucial step toward a return to normalcy – not only for restaurants, but also for the customers who support them.

When people are once again able to enjoy a meal out in town without worrying about getting sick, he explained, they will be more optimistic about the future.

“And nothing is more important than optimism,” he said.

Mayor John Suthers, who was also on hand for the visit, said he was confident that the relief fund would help Colorado Springs rebound from the economic downturn it suffered during the pandemic.

“Colorado Springs has shown itself to be one of the most economically resilient large cities in America,” Suthers said. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to spend this relief act money very strategically, to make sure that we really make an impact, help the businesses that were hurt the most, and have a recovery that will knock everybody’s socks off.”

Grants will be capped at $5 million per restaurant, or at $10 million per restaurant group. Businesses with more than 20 locations will be ineligible to apply for aid.

With Major League Baseball’s recent decision to move its All-Star Game to Denver, restaurant recovery has become even more critical, the junior senator said.

“We’re trying to make sure that (the fund) provides the necessary resources, so that when the All-Star Game comes this summer, we are ready to handle it,” he said.

Hickenlooper pointed out that while the relief fund won’t completely compensate for the massive losses many businesses have suffered, it should help them retain employees, keep their doors open to customers, and begin to build revenue.

“It’s not going to make up for all that was lost,” Hickenlooper said. “But I think it’s going to be enough to get people through.”

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