Imagine the shopping center in your neighborhood. The one you drive by every day, or frequent to pick up groceries or school supplies. Now imagine being part-owner of that shopping center.
It’s probably not a vision most have, but it is one that Lyneir Richardson brought to the Walbrook section of Baltimore. The neighborhood in West Baltimore is home to around 3,000 residents, and is largely Black.
“The folks in Walbrook have pride in their neighborhood. The shopping center is a highly visible landmark. It needs a little love, but as we were looking into the purchase, we thought, ‘what if the community had the opportunity to own this?’” said Richardson, co-founder and CEO of Chicago TREND Corporation, a social enterprise with a mission to strengthen neighborhoods by catalyzing and accelerating strategic retail and other commercial development.
Richardson is talking about the Walbrook Junction shopping center, a 47,000-square-foot strip with tenants like Save-A-Lot, a Rite Aid, and other retail. With a background in catalyzing, accelerating and financing strategic retail development to strengthen neighborhoods, especially communities of color, TREND was a natural fit to explore the purchase of the property. But Richardson’s original thesis was that the shopping center could have a higher probability of success if local residents had a stake.
His first move was to contact Reinvestment Fund and the Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund (NIIF). Each funder provided a $2.9 million loan for the project, but also encouraged Richardson to activate the community. In a somewhat nontraditional approach, Richardson took to crowdfunding to seek investors. Local residents were given the chance to invest their own capital to purchase a stake in the shopping center.
There were skeptics, of course, but Richardson took on more than 30 Zoom sessions–some with two participants, some with up to 60–to share his vision with local residents. He connected virtually with the adjacent KIPP Baltimore school parents, church leaders, and community organizations about financial empowerment, intentional economic inclusion, and the company’s expectations.
“Then came the article in the Baltimore Sun,” Richardson said with a smile. “There’s a lot about this project that you can separate into before the article, then after.”