Grant rests with development evidence

May. 09, 2013 @ 06:24 PM

Area leaders promoting a development plan for Zene Street stated their case for continued grant funding from a North Carolina foundation Thursday.

The Golden LEAF Foundation keeps nearly $700,000 ready for leveraging development of the recreational, educational, entertainment and family center on Zene Street, also known as REEF.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach told a gathering of about 30 government and civic organization leaders at the 309 Wyche St., Henderson, professional building that his board will need solid evidence of likely results in order for them to decide in favor of keeping the grant available.

REEF consultant Cassandra Sparrow, district leader of the charitable development group, Religious, Educational-and-charitable, Development-projects, Inc., or RED, said area leaders are committed to a specific plan to get started immediately.

Sparrow presented a two-phase development plan that would total more than $8 million worth of construction employing more than 100 skilled professionals and resulting in a center occupied by tenants employing 70 full-time and 25 part-time employees.

Phase one would cost $735,000 to build, servicing five tenants committed to the project:

• Vance-Granville Community College, for a cosmetology and barbering program using 10,000 square feet.

• Beckford Medical Practice, Dr. James Kenny, using 2,000 square feet.

• N.C. Institute for Minority Economic Development, using 1,000 square feet.

• A private-owner laundromat business startup, using 3,500 square feet.

• Second-District RED, Inc., with partners and affiliated entities, using 10,000 square feet.

Gerlach said that a downside to Sparrow’s plan is that the Golden LEAF funding, applied only to phase one, would be the chief contributor, not actually leveraging development beyond the $735,000 renovation plan except on the hope that momentum would bring more interested partnerships to propel the second phase.

“I do not doubt the need for getting something done in that area of Henderson,” Gerlach said. “How likely is that phase two to get done this century? Or, more to the point, this decade?”

Sparrow said the confidence and dedication of the interested stakeholders is a key indication that the funding will fulfill its purpose, and getting started is critical.

“We basically stand ready to move forward,” Sparrow said. “We are committed, and we feel confident that this will act as a trigger.”

Henderson Mayor Pete O’Geary, attending the gathering with six members of the city council, said he agreed that starting as soon as possible is necessary because the Zene Street neighborhood need is critical.

“This is what the project is needed for,” O’Geary said. “It will clean up a blighted area. We need to move this forward, break ground and get started.”

In assessing other funding sources available, Gerlach surmised from individual responses around the conference room table that the City of Henderson has $50,000 committed, and Vance County is tentatively ready to offer $50,000.

He questioned Vance Commissioner Terry Garrison about the county’s readiness to commit to $50,000, and Garrison said his feeling is positive in that direction, but he could not speak on behalf of the other commission board members as a matter of policy.

“The need for this program is so great,” Garrison said. “I don’t think it would take long for them to understand that.”

In calculating job starts for phase one, Gerlach assessed the VGCC use as bringing five full-time workers from the main campus, with the program doubling over time to add five new faculty positions at the Zene Street site.

He received assurance from Dr. Stelfanie Williams, president of the college, that the school would fund the new faculty positions as the new barbering program provided more interest in the program. The county would be the funding source for facility construction.

Other respondents indicated that the satellite location for Beckford Medical would be expected to add up to six employment positions either during phase one or phase two expansion, the laundromat would be a coin-operation facility and have an unknown but small, perhaps one or two, owner-operators and the minority economic development institute location would have a full-time director and possibly one or two additional employees.

RED, affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, did not have an estimate on hires associated with the future work of partners and affiliated entities at the Zene Street location.

Abdul Rasheed, with the N.C. Community Development Initiative, said that he spoke for everyone interested in bringing development to the Zene Street area in thanking Golden LEAF for providing the opportunity to keep the grant fund available.

“If you don’t put any investment over there, then nothing will be done,” Rasheed said, adding that it would be a tragic loss to the community.

Gerlach said that the overall goal remains for 70 or more full-time jobs to be started because of the Zene Street development. His board meets in June for a decision on this and other grant funding matters.

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