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Make plans, build relationships, target support

A community event inside the redeveloped historic Clyde Iron Works in Duluth.

Exciting, multi-million dollar investments are going up these days in the Near Eastside neighborhood in Indianapolis and the Lincoln Park neighborhood on the west end of Duluth, Minnesota.

Although they’ve taken different paths toward revitalization, both communities shared a common situation just a few years ago. In 1981, Lincoln Park’s Clyde Iron Works closed its doors, and the RCA plant that once employed 17,000 packed up and left Near Eastside at the turn of the 21st century. With a major employer gone, each community slid into disinvestment and decline.

The news is much better today. In Indianapolis, energy from the 2012 Super Bowl has lead to more than $150 million in diverse, holistic investments in Near Eastside that created housing, a health center, a grocery co-op and other businesses.

In Duluth, a new sports complex in Lincoln Park has been joined by the Clyde Iron Works Restaurant and Venue, which includes an expanded Boys & Girls Club and the Duluth Children’s Museum. Now there’s talk of a hotel and a coffee shop-marketplace at the $19 million, 10-acre campus.

Students use the gymnasium in the new Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center, a community and fitness center located on the campus of Arsenal Technical High School.

Before these big projects could get started, however, local organizations and residents came together to do the detailed, even painstaking work to write actionable quality-of-life plans that were ready-to-go when opportunity came knocking.

“These plans were reflective of a grassroots group of stakeholders,” said Bill Taft, the executive director of LISC Indianapolis. “It only works in neighborhoods where you have capable groups. The scale requires capacity at the neighborhood level. It also requires an ambitious vision.”

Taft, along with Pam Kramer, executive director of Duluth LISC, spoke at the Implementing workshop at Getting It Done II, facilitated by Christy Prahl, the New Communities Program (NCP) director at Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. in the Humboldt Park community in Chicago.

The session focused on how to leverage resources and make deals. Taft, Kramer and Prahl all agreed—the first step is getting the right kind of plan.

Creating a plan that works

Using Chicago’s NCP program as a guide, LISC Indianapolis broadened its focus several years ago from affordable housing to a more comprehensive approach, spending $2.4 million through the Great Indy Neighborhood Initiative to support planning and to seed implementation in Near Eastside and five other neighborhoods.

Chase Near Eastside Legacy Center represents Indianapolis LISC’s first New Market Tax Credit investment of $14.3 million as part of the Legacy Initiative.

For its planning, Near Eastside pulled together a diverse set of local agencies, businesses and residents, led by the John H. Boner Community Center—the consensus choice of the group despite its lack of traditional community development experience because of its credibility with funders, among other reasons. The group gathered for a series of meetings to create plans that weren’t designed to sit on a shelf and were intentionally not overly technical.

Taft said that the planning and the two-year implementation period required the coalition to invite new partners to the table and to consider their neighborhoods more holistically. “Civic and neighborhood leaders built networks that led to projects we wouldn’t even have thought about,” he said.

As part of the Lilly Day of Service, employees from Eli Lilly Company and community volunteers work to beautify the gateway to the Near Eastside neighborhood.

He added that the process also required the group to discuss challenges and opportunities in spheres that weren’t their top priorities and identify a lead agency for each project that would have accountability to carry it out.

“That pushed them to go well beyond what they traditionally thought of as community development,” he said. “We put a big emphasis on results-based accountability. When goals were put into the plans, you could measure results, identify actions, say who the leader was, give the time frame within which each would be completed, and say how completion would be defined.”

In Duluth, the five-neighborhood At Home in Duluth effort began meeting in 1999, but at the beginning, the emphasis was not on a comprehensive plan.

But after several years of mostly concentrating on affordable housing development, Duluth LISC and its partners in the five communities realized that if people still couldn’t afford those new homes, or they had concerns about crime or schools, not enough had been accomplished. “We realized we needed to address broader, more comprehensive needs,” Kramer said.

The Clyde Iron Works, when it was still the "blight of Duluth."

Partners to the At Home in Duluth effort in Lincoln Park, which was led by the local office of Neighborhood Housing Services, met monthly for about nine months in 2006 and 2007 and identified housing, economic development, education and youth as the top priorities.

Kramer said building relationships with people who are involved with the community, before and during that process, proved a key to success.

Especially critical was getting involved with developer Alessandro Giuliani, who in 2003 had purchased the Clyde Iron Works. The site became the focal point of Lincoln Park’s plan, despite environmental and structural challenges that led the site to be labeled as the “blight of Duluth." 

Ambitious plans for the Clyde Iron Works site have started to come true.

“This was a developer who cared about historic buildings and about the community,” Kramer said of Giuliani. “Our relationship started before the neighborhood plan; he learned about the plan and started participating. You have to find ways to connect the dots, identify what common interests you have and find opportunities to build on those linkages.”

Prahl reiterated that point at the panel, based on her own experience in Humboldt Park. “Be intentional about how you bring people together,” she said. “Reflect on, ‘Do we really have a diverse community of people at the table?’ And if not, ‘How do we course-correct?’” 

Using the plan

With a plan in hand, Near Eastside was ready to step forward to be considered when Indianapolis was awarded the Super Bowl and the NFL began to think about what should be the legacy project that the league funds each year for the host city.

The NFL’s $2 million support in funding three staff positions to move the quality-of-life plan forward led, in turn, to more diverse, holistic investments.

Grand opening activities at Youth Education Town (YET), a center that provides health, fitness, wellness, cultural, educational and family strengthening programs for Near Eastside residents. The community added more than $10 million to the NFL Charities investment in the site.

“It really has accelerated the neighborhood’s plan,” Taft said. “The Super Bowl gave us a bully pulpit to go out and raise the other $150 million. It was a launching pad to go after these other [funders]. 

A key piece of the partnership involved integrating community leadership with counterparts from the Super Bowl’s host committee to form task forces that worked on various elements of the plan.

“The blending of leadership was important and very valuable, because it’s left behind a network of relationships—people in the broader community who are now advocates for community development,” Taft pointed out. “That allows us to start to pursue a broader range of partners who understand and support this kind of activity and approach.”

In Duluth’s Lincoln Park, the precipitating event was a disaster, rather than a celebration like the Super Bowl: The local hockey arena burned down. But, like in Indianapolis, the plan and external partners—in this case a mix of support from the state, city, school board, nonprofits, corporations, banks and local businesses—made a difference.

“The fire provided an opportunity to say, ‘What are the other community needs that could be met at this site?’” Kramer said. “We talked about, ‘What are the needs of the neighborhood, and how do we work together?’ … It wasn’t just [LISC]; it was partnerships pulling that together. We were finding opportunities to broker those relationships and discussions.”

Each stakeholder had its own reasons for participating; the overarching goal was how they all could work best together. Giuliani was passionate about finding a way to reuse the historic buildings to bring the community together, for example, and the city become hooked in because of its interest in providing ice time for local youth. The school district became involved because it wanted to build linkages with the Boys & Girls Club. All of those involved were interested in addressing blight and creating jobs.

Local youth breaking ground on the Duluth Heritage Sports Center. It took a mix of partners to make it possible to fund the project.

As important was finding the right partners to bring in the complex but essential mix of funding. Mid-Minnesota Community Development Corp. and a local bank helped to finance the nonprofit Heritage Sports side of the operation, and LISC provided a $9.1 million allocation of LISC New Market Tax Credits and helped to leverage bank investments for the for-profit Clyde Park businesses.

The group also worked with the city’s economic development office to access U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state brownfields remediation funding for addressing blight and needed clean-up. LISC Duluth also brought in an additional $200,000 through the LISC/NFL Grassroots Youth Fields Program to provide an artifical turf for youth football and other sports at the Heritage Center.

Through all this, keeping local residents involved can be a “fragile” process, Prahl said, but agencies must develop them as leaders and give them not only a seat at the table but also a voice. In building momentum, she noted, “Never underestimate the power of reaching an achievable goal.” 

Keep it going

LISC Indianapolis would like to follow up on the development in Near Eastside in other neighborhoods where it’s been leading quality-of-life planning. “We’re looking for a hook,” Taft said. “We don’t have another Super Bowl.” One possibility could be the city’s bicentennial celebrations scheduled for 2020, which LISC hopes to leverage for  $100 million in targeted infrastructure investments and a far larger amount of private urban investment.

“The only reason we can have that conversation is because of the Near Eastside,” Taft said. “[And] the only reason we had that [success] is because of quality-of-life planning.”

The multi-purpose Heritage Sports Center in Duluth is a community asset that not only provides fun for local kids, it's an anchor for further development.

Taft cautioned that the bicentennial concept is “still a developing idea and not a done deal. But what we learned from the legacy inititative was a combination of a baseline of public investment, linked to a larger civic celebration, and then linked back to a quality-of-life plan and an organized neighborhood—those are the three legs of the stool we’re trying to replicate. Each one of them brings something different. That’s a recipe for success.”

LISC Duluth is also hoping to build on its success. The development has created 95 jobs and the adjacent neighborhoods has benefited from five new businesses (one a sporting goods store that moved from across town), as well as “a lot of new energy,” according to Kramer.

A LISC MetroEdge study found that 84,000 people had visited Clyde Park in the past 12 months—about the same as the entire population of Duluth. “Lincoln Park has a new buzz,” Kramer said. “People are talking about Lincoln Park.” 

Watch a video about the transformation of the Near Eastside via the Super Bowl Legacy Initiative.

Posted in Implementing, Duluth, Indianapolis

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