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Mission, Money & Markets: Investment in Cincinnati authority supports micro commercial redevelopment

General Foundation News

In 2016, Kresge made its first investment into a Development Finance Agency, with a $5 million program-related investment to the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority.

This week, Kresge Social Investment Managing Director Kimberlee Cornett interviewed GCRA’s President and CEO Laura Brunner to find out how this unique organization became a recipient of an impact investment and how it views its role as both an industrial and business developer as well as a neighborhood developer in Cincinnati.

KIMBERLEE: The Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority is legally a port authority. But your organization operates differently and takes on things that are unusual for most port authorities.

LAURA: Port Authorities’ legislation differs across the country. In Ohio, the legislation expanded originally from maritime to include operations of airports and then public finance and then ultimately to a very broad definition of tools to create economic development.

When I started at the Redevelopment Authority five years ago, we had a relatively blank slate. We had resources and broad power, and we set out to determine how to make the biggest impact in our region. For the first three years, we focused on the management of our county land bank and its powers to clean up blight and to restore real estate back to productive use. There were many properties locked in tax and mortgage foreclosure because of the recession, which brought down so many neighborhoods across the country.

Cincinnati didn’t suffer as much as Detroit or Cleveland, but we had a significant need and set out to raise approximately $10 million dollars of funding for demolition capacity in our county. We focused on being good stewards of those funds, and we began to invest in the redevelopment of those neighborhoods to expand opportunity and restore prosperity.

KIMBERLEE: If we drove through those neighborhoods today, what would we see that has changed during your investment?

LAURA: In the neighborhood of Evanston, the community had significant concentrations of foreclosure and vacancy. There had not been a private home sale for nine years. There were no sales comps. The people there couldn’t sell their homes and couldn’t borrow money to fix their homes, which obviously perpetuates neighborhood decline.

We worked to develop a plan for 10 years. Using the land-bank tools, taking tax-delinquent properties and acquiring others, we amassed an inventory of about 30 homes. Our goal and belief was that once we redeveloped those 30 homes, the private sector would fall in behind us – we will have catalyzed the private market again.

On a parallel path, we worked with police and identified where crime hot spots were in the commercial district. There, we acquired properties, redeveloped them and put them back on the market or demolished them, putting the land on the back burner for future development.