As we approach the end of our fourth year in business, it's an opportune time to reflect on our purpose and the incredible projects that have defined our journey. At the heart of our mission is the desire to bridge the gap between exceptional ideas led by visionary leaders and the necessary funding to make them a reality. We are committed to supporting social impact companies and projects with underrepresented leaders on a global scale.
An Idea for Community-Led Development
One particular project stands out as a example of the work we do: an innovative community-led development initiative with our client, Re:land Group. Re:land is an MBE urban planning, design, and development group that aims to invest in neighborhoods by empowering the community. They approached us with a vision to undertake a "community-led" development on a 17-acre site in Park Hill/Algonquin neighborhoods.
These neighborhoods—Park Hill and Algonquin—had long been neglected, struggling to survive without the investment, equity, care, or concern necessary to meet their basic and fundamental needs. Unfortunately, these neighborhoods rank among the poorest and most underinvested areas in our city, facing numerous challenges:
59% of residents live in poverty (with 80% of children experiencing poverty from 2013-2017), in stark contrast to the 13% regional average.
The median household income is a mere $18,000, while the regional average stands at $54,000.
Unemployment rates reach 15%, significantly higher than the 6% regional rate.
27% of adults lack a high school diploma, compared to 10% in the region.
Homeownership is only at 10%, compared to 67% in the region.
Residents are likely to live 10-15 years less, simply due to living in the West End of Louisville.
Re:land's goal centered on supporting the residents of Park Hill and Algonquin while striving for an equitable redevelopment of the neighborhood—a Community of Opportunity. The concept of a Community of Opportunity is rooted in research that highlights how a system of racism has created limited access to opportunities for stigmatized groups, hindering socioeconomic attainment, quality of life, and health. To counter these negative effects and build healthier and more equitable communities, Re:land's development would bring much-needed investment to transform historically disadvantaged neighborhoods like Park Hill and Algonquin into places of opportunity with strong health equity outcomes.
Velo had the opportunity to co-present a vision and plan with Re:land leadership to the city of Louisville's economic development group, which led to an opportunity for Re:land to bid and ultimately receive the rights to develop the 17 acre site.
Creation of a plan
As we worked on the first draft of the proforma sources and uses for what was then thought to be a $150 million development, it became evident that the community leadership goal for the project surpassed the scope of a traditional predevelopment cost.
To overcome this challenge, Velo suggested packaging the community engagement/leadership component of the project as a $1 million grant concept. This concept invited area foundations to co-invest with us, supporting the creation and empowerment of a unique community group within this forgotten neighborhood.
The goal was to foster a deeper understanding of health equity and power, ideate programs and space needs for neighborhood transformation, and commit to a "placemaking and amenities testing" component that ensured culturally appropriate and additive developments for the community.
An effort called the Louisville Coordinated Community Investment Project was active at that time among foundations seeking investment and grant opportunities in West Louisville. Our project aligned with the project objectives and quickly earned a spot on their recommendation list.
The LCCIP team played a crucial role in spreading the word about our work among the foundations. Though our proposal was innovative and comprehensive, we received feedback from program officers that it needed a more simplified ask and was better suited as a community planning grant request.
With those adjustments, we won the support of five foundations, and we secured $855,000 for the program. Planning commenced in the fall of 2021, and we actively engaged the community in April/May of 2022.
The outcomes that followed were nothing short of extraordinary, exceeding all of our hopes and expectations. We’ve written here how the community fully embraced the project, taking ownership of the process and making a significant impact.
We extended the project to a Part 2, where the community Advisory Board members continued to meet and receive support for their change initiatives. This phase ran parallel to the Placemaking/Amenities testing portion of the plan, leading to the creation of a plan for a semi-permanent build in the neighborhood. This planned build will activate pop-up programs to test and prioritize the development of amenities for the community. At the same time, Part 2 also includes the development of a culturally responsive Master Plan for the surrounding neighborhood, in addition to the 17-acre Rhodia site. This comprehensive master plan provided a clear, conceptual layout of new businesses, active and public transportation routes, greenspaces, housing scheme options, and essential amenities.
Unlike conventional master plans, this document integrated placemaking approaches, local insights, and equity, leveraging the expertise of technical experts. It targets the factors that the Advisory Board identified as key to change, drawing on local knowledge about how politics, economics, history, and culture shape development and population movements within a community. Additionally, we are collecting, analyzing, and mapping socioeconomic, demographic, housing, and investment data.
Continuing the Work for Economic Empowerment Outcomes
Looking ahead, we are eager to embark on Part 3 of this transformative project. This phase introduces an exciting new plan for the community to move from leadership to ownership, to be achieved through the formation of a co-operative corporation for joint ownership. The co-op will implement the placemaking/amenities testing in a co-op ownership model, initially seeded by philanthropy but built to become a sustainable economic empowerment engine for the community. Moreover, the co-op will actively pursue advocacy, education, and communications to create justice and shared successes, particularly benefiting the residents of Parkway Place.
As we reflect on this journey, we are grateful and inspired to have the opportunity to learn and experience the power of community-led development. Re:land's initiative showcases the transformative effects such projects can have on underrepresented neighborhoods, proving that collaboration, intentionality, and a commitment to lasting change can pave the way for a brighter and more equitable future.
Looking forward, we remain committed to discovering exciting new growth ideas, developing plans and providing expert financial advisory and capital access services. Together, we will continue to empower communities and build a world where everyone has access to opportunities for a better tomorrow.