Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Monday proposed creating a $650,000 fund to help small businesses in the Central District hurt by ongoing 23rd Avenue road work.

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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Monday proposed creating a $650,000 fund to help small businesses in the Central District hurt by ongoing 23rd Avenue road work.

The proposal is a reversal by the Murray administration. For weeks, officials said Seattle could and would not provide the struggling businesses with cash assistance, insisting the city never offers mitigation money for its construction, as a matter of policy.

Murray changed course Monday amid growing anger over impacts of the yearslong project to repave, restructure and improve 23rd Avenue, the main thoroughfare in a neighborhood long known as the heart of Seattle’s black communities.

Most of the affected businesses are owned by people of color and many have been open for decades. The road work, including the closure of 23rd Avenue to northbound traffic between South Jackson and East Union streets, has made it difficult for patrons to access the mom-and-pop enterprises.

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Several owners have said they may shut down without ample help from the city. The $650,000 fund, pending approval by the City Council, would target businesses with five or fewer employees at greatest risk of closing, said Brian Surratt, director of the Seattle Office of Economic Development, who expects 20 to 30 businesses to receive money.

Determining which businesses qualify and getting them the money may take weeks, Murray said. Businesses will need to show they’ve been harmed by the project.

“I’ve gone to 23rd Avenue and inspected the project,” the mayor said Monday. “It is obvious that the project is having serious impacts on those businesses. It is obvious that they need help.”

Sara Mae Brereton, who owns 701 Coffee at 23rd Avenue and East Cherry Street, said she wants to see details before she applauds Murray’s plan.

Brereton is worried about businesses several blocks off 23rd Avenue competing for money from the fund and said $650,000 may not be enough. Downtown waterfront businesses are getting $15 million for closing temporarily during seawall construction.

“We want to support this publicly but we need to see what it looks like in the end,” Brereton said. “It’s great that the mayor is at the table now, but this has been going on for months. We’ve had to prod him out of his indifference to get him to do something.”

Adal Shimelis, who owns Update Barber Shop, next to 701 Coffee, called the fund good news. But he wants to know more about how the money will be divided.

“The thing is, this isn’t just about money lost. I’ve lost customers for good,” he said.

During a council briefing last week, Gerald Hankerson, president of the Seattle King County NAACP, linked the project to gentrification, asking whether officials are part of a strategy to push businesses owners and residents of color out of the Central District.

Murray on Monday said his administration would conduct a new review of the project through a “race and social-justice lens.” The mayor will terminate the project altogether if the review determines it to be racist and responsible for displacement, he said.

“This project is supposed to provide better and safer infrastructure so the community can grow and thrive,” he said. “But given (gentrification) allegations, the city will make a new assessment of the project to examine carefully its race and social-justice impacts, to ensure the project actually benefits the community. If it does not, we will end it.”

The Seattle Department of Transportation will re-evaluate the project’s schedule, Murray said. The work was supposed to be completed in phases to minimize harm to the neighborhood, but that plan was changed due to a lightpole-design mistake.

Washington state law prohibits cities like Seattle from giving local tax dollars to private entities, so the city will use money from federal programs for the $650,000 fund.

The city used a similar strategy in recent years to help businesses affected by the construction of light rail on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. When questioned about that case earlier this month, officials told The Seattle Times it was a different situation because the light-rail construction was spearheaded by Sound Transit, not by the city.

Murray said businesses in other neighborhoods shouldn’t expect mitigation money for future projects. He called 23rd Avenue an exception.

“What we’re talking about here is a community that is mostly minority, mostly people of color living on the margins economically,” he said.