Detroiters and urban developers around the country have been marveling at sensation- al Detroit comeback stories for well over a year now. With the clamor of cranes along the Woodward Ave. corridor and the headline grabbing news of revitalization projects in downtown and Midtown, these glamorous, glitzy development projects have become a press mainstay. Local residents and businesses have come to expect news of high profile developers touting stories of their gallant efforts to resurrect decaying business communities and develop ne- glected land parcels as part of one of the largest municipal comeback stories in history.
So with the clamor of jack hammers breaking up ground along Woodward Ave. for the M1 Rail, and crane’s dotting the skies in Midtown, there are quieter, more subtle players at work to bring the city’s renaissance to fruition, one of the most impressive being Capital Impact Partners which is housed on West Grand Blvd. in the New Center area.
Melinda Clemons, a senior loan officer at Capital Impact Partners, is proof of a more al- truistic force working toward that paradigm shift from development for the sake of development, to genuine and sustain- able revitalization to improve the quality of life in multiple sectors of the city.
“Our mission is to lend in underserved communities and deliver financing for bricks and mortar development projects, community facilities, social programs and assist nonprofits with capacity building to create sustainable change in Detroit,” explains Clemons, while hard at work this past Christmas Eve processing loan requests. “These applicants are waiting to hear about they’re loan re- quests, so I can stay and work on them,” says the conscientious lender.
Capital Impact Partners is one of the largest Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in the nation. CDFIs are entities that operate like banks, but do not take deposits and lend at much better terms to assist with revitalization projects in distressed communities. The nonprofit ;ender has ployed over $2 billion to serve nearly five million people in underserved communities and create more than 32,000 jobs in urban communities around the country.
Headquartered in Washing- ton, D.C., Capital Impact began work in Detroit in 2009 and has invested more than $100 million dollars in development projects over the past six years. THE CDFI has been working in Detroit to stave off the urban apocalypse for more than six years, having opened its office in the New Center in March of 2015.
Capital Impact’s initial in- vestment project was a $30 mil- lion Woodward Corridor Investment Fund which is supported by a group of investors including PNC Bank, MetLife and the Kressge Foundation among others. The fund is intended to develop projects which create density along downtown, the central business District, Mid- town, New Center and the North End areas.
Capital Impact’s first completed project was four-story apartment building at 711 Alexandrine near Third St. The building reopened in late 2015 as a 36-unit market rate residential building catering to stu- dent and young professionals.
“Our overall strategy is to create mixed use neighbor- hoods for our housing strategy,” Clemons said enthusiastically. “As you drive down Woodward Avenue, you may see many vacant or blighted build- ing, but you also see, cranes along the street. We’re happy that we are part of some of those projects that are creat- ing density,” beamed Clemons. “That was the strategy, to take historic buildings, vacant par- cels and vacant buildings, and bring them back on the market as multi-family projects.”
Capital Impact Partners’ comprehensive approach to community revitalization is earmarked by their commitment to lending in specific sectors including, federally qualified health care centers, healthy food programs, charter schools, and programs for seniors in Detroit. “We have a fund called the Michigan Good Food Fund, which finances anything from the ground to the fork along the food chain, as far as distributors, processors and retailers in the food industry,” Clemons disclosed. In a city notorious for its lack of quality food markets and the abundance of food deserts, ad- dressing the issue is critical to the wellbeing of Detroiters. The Michigan Good Food Fund is another Capital Impact $30 mil- lion initiative.
“We completed a new market tax credit transaction where we used the allocation to open Banner Foods, which has been renamed Imperial Foods. We expanded the store and gave them money to expand the produce area for fresh foods and vegetables and the meat section for a better offering of fresh meats,” Clemons said. The $ 6.2 mil- lion newly renovated market is located on Schaefer near Lyndon in Detroit.
Having recently celebrated a ribbon cutting for the St. Regis Apartments, Capital Impact has moved its multi- pronged development and revitalization approach in the neighborhood arena. And as has been par for the funding course thus far, the Detroit Neighbor- hood fund is also a $30 million Capital Impact commitment.
“So far we are working on property rehabilitation. It’s not that we won’t do new construction, but the pipeline of transactions that are ready to move forward, are in the Woodward corridor,” said Clemons. “But now as momentum builds in different districts including the 7 Mile and Livernois area, the 6 mile and Livernois area, West Village and Southwest there is more activity and more interest in those projects coming into the Pipeline.”
Clemons confesses there are a couple of pet project she’s still anxious to undertake: the Scott Mansion rehab on Park St., and the Paradise Valley renew- al project. “First who wouldn’t want to live in a mansion … and to have a part in the Paradise Valley revitalization would be so very fulfilling, especially support- ing minority developers in what was formerly known as Black Bottom.”
“We don’t feel like neighborhoods that our all low-income or all high income are beneficial for anyone. We want that cross mix of individual and services, and backgrounds and experiences, to make a more complete and gratifying living experience,” Clemons concludes.