Chris CardonaThe Shop Around the Corner

By: Chris Cardona In: 2013 Fall Conference

24 Sep 2013

I attended the “What is place-based philanthropy?” site visit, and it got me thinking about the role of private business in community foundation projects. There are fruitful relationships and productive roles we could do more to develop, and San Diego has some interesting models.

We visited “urban village” development projects run by Price Charities (in City Heights) and by the Jacobs Foundation (in Market Creek). These are unusual roles for foundations to play; they’re acting as real estate developers, and their offices are located in the neighborhoods they’re rebuilding. They engage residents to design the urban spaces, including retail, services, and community centers. And they work with those vendors to decide who will be located where.

In City Heights, Price pursued a “compass” strategy, starting with a retail plaza hub and developing housing in targeted areas north, south, east, and west of the hub. The hope was that for-profit developers would “fill in” the space between the compass points and the hub. But response so far has been slow, because Price is looking for developers to be engaged at least somewhat in the social mission of the work, and many developers want to be absentee landlords and not take a hands-on role. Overcoming that disconnect will be a challenge as the project evolves.

In the Village at Market Creek, Jacobs created a retail plaza. They asked residents what they wanted. Residents observed there had not been a new grocery store in the neighborhood since the fifties. Jacobs bid out to grocery chains like Ralph’s, with little initial response. Finally, a lesser-known national chain called Food 4 Less stepped up. It’s now the most successful location of that chain in the region.

I came away wanting to know more about the “program officer equivalent” in other sectors - who within companies decides the siting of retail locations? Bank loan officers make similar decisions at a smaller scale, evaluating opportunities and rendering judgments about resources people want. Are these people on the radar screens of community foundations? Shouldn’t they be fundamental partners in community development projects.

Such engagement can and should involve residents, and the results can be surprising for those of us steeped in nonprofit culture. In the Village at Market Creek, the developers from Jacobs set a goal of one-third local businesses in the retail plaza. They thought a local coffee chain could be a good option, with more affordable prices. Respondents said “nope, we want Starbucks like people downtown have.” Aspiration is an important part of community development, and a sense of fairness - “we want what everyone wants.” Familiar retail brand names can powerfully symbolize these ambitions. In both communities, Walmart has been a controversial potential presence for similar reasons. And that Starbucks location? It’s thriving.

It’s worth questioning our assumptions about the kinds of value different types of private businesses provide, and how they might be partners in community development.

How do you partner with private business in your community foundation? What new approaches have you been trying or might you try?

Join in the conversation by commenting below, or by tweeting @COF_ #COF13.

Chris Cardona is Director of Philanthropy for TCC Group.

Comment Form


Welcome to RE: Philanthropy! In this blog, guest and Council bloggers share ideas and insights on the most pressing issues in philanthropy. If you want to contribute, please contact webteam@cof.org.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Foundations.

Contributors

Doug Balfour
David Abramson
Leanne Breiby
Craig Cichy
Liza Petra
Kisha Green Dimbo
Heather Scott
Nicole Taylor
Laura Tomasko
Marilyn Gelber
Rick Cohen
Mimi Box, Mimi Corcoran Jane Vincent, and Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy
Kate Levin Markel
Tony Macklin
Kevin Murphy
richardwoo
Lori Bertman
Andrew Ho
Rebecca Graves
Brooke Ramsey
Lara Kalwinski
MLea Davis
Ali Webb
Aaron Dorfman
Daniel Kaufman
Kaberi Banerjee-Murthy
Nick Deychakiwsky
Jessica del Rosario
Anthony Tansimore
Valerie S. Lies
Susie Nelson
Daria Teutonico
Laurel Lee-Alexander
Nancy Jost
Sophia Guevara
Salin Geevarghese
Heather Peeler
Mindie Reule
Braimah Apambire
Michele McLellan
Valerie Batts
Tom Vilsack
Anne Sekula
Dien S. Yuen
Courtney Kaezyk
Rick Mappin
Marika Lynch
Sarah Gilbert
Andres Spokoiny
Albert Ruesga