Revitalizing Black Neighborhoods by Preserving Their History

The Four Percent


Jevonte Porter grew up hearing family stories about a bustling era of arts and business in the Orange Mound section of Memphis. After World War II, locals flocked to performance spaces like the W.C. Handy Theater; those without tickets often sold hot dogs or other goods on the busy streets outside venues.

To Mr. Porter, 25, these anecdotes almost sounded like fiction. As a child, he played hide-and-seek around abandoned buildings. Orange Mound — often cited as the first community in the United States founded and developed by African Americans — had become less the domain of street vendors and more of a food desert.

Now, Mr. Porter sees signs of revitalization taking root.

Leading the effort are two local developers, Victoria Jones, an artist, and James Dukes, a music producer known as IMAKEMADBEATS, who want to transform the United Equipment Building — an abandoned feed mill and one of the locales of Mr. Porter’s childhood games — into Orange Mound Tower. The planned $50 million, multiuse facility is expected to contain 100,000 square feet of space.

Similar developments are being started in historically significant Black neighborhoods nationwide, repurposing deteriorated structures with the goal of bringing spaces for the arts, affordable housing and small businesses under one roof.

In Atlanta, a former commercial building will focus on fresh food options through a locally sourced grocery and shared kitchen space. In Oakland, Calif., a once-famous jazz club in a neighborhood ravaged by the encroachment of freeways and public transportation is slated for rebirth as an arts center with a farmers’ market and a gallery.

The plans are ambitious, and difficult to achieve. A recent New York Times Magazine article on Orange Mound noted that racial demographics significantly influence where money is invested across the United States. Only 23 percent of Black-owned small businesses are likely to obtain bank funds, according to a 2020 report from the Federal Reserve system.

“People can demand better in development in Black neighborhoods,” said Nikishka Iyengar, who founded the Guild, a social enterprise program that is leading the Atlanta project, called Groundcover.

Alternative lenders more familiar with the adverse effects of gentrification, urban planning and the ways that a lack of access to capital have hindered Black developers are providing a lifeline for several developments.

The developers of Orange Mound Tower and Historic Clayborn Temple connected with organizations, like the Kataly Foundation and the Memphis Leadership Foundation, that provide financing, technical assistance and strategic advice to gain funding.

Kataly promotes an ownership structure led by locals who will make decisions about the property, said Nwamaka Agbo, the chief executive of the foundation, which was created in 2018 by Regan Pritzker, whose family founded Hyatt hotels. It has a restorative economies fund that reinvests through “integrated capital” methods like loan guarantees and grants.

“Black communities are affected by a racial wealth gap and don’t have access to capital wealthier white communities have,” Ms. Agbo said. A typical white family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family, according to a 2019 survey by the Federal Reserve Board. “To offer a 0 to 1 percent interest loan to a community that normally couldn’t get that is one way to redistribute wealth,” she said.

The Memphis Leadership Foundation acquired Historic Clayborn Temple through funding from several local donors and foundations, with the goal of transferring the building to a nonprofit group that would restore the space.

Other historically important sites around the temple had already been demolished, and gentrification was becoming evident in pockets throughout the city, which made buying the building appealing, said Larry Lloyd, founder of Memphis Leadership Foundation.

In 2019, the title was transferred to Ms. Troutman, who received assistance from Kataly’s restorative economies fund program.


Source link Real Estate

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