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North side groups pitch their projects to banks through Fed program

COVENANT BLU-GRAND CENTER – Organizations in north St. Louis that are perceived to be doing good in the neighborhood got a chance recently to pitch ideas to financial institutions interested in lending to them. 

The live pitching and networking event, coined the Investment Connection: Community Development at the St. Louis Fed, was presented by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and held at the Deaconess Center, 1000 North Vandeventer Ave. 

Making the connection between funders and organizations is part of the federal Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. 

The CRA requires the Federal Reserve and other federal banking regulators to encourage institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they do business. 

The mandate includes low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, hence north St. Louis. 

Since the area program’s inception, two years ago, the St. Louis Fed has hosted eight live Investment Connection events. This marks the second one in St. Louis. To date, more than $1,217,500 in grants, loans and investments has been committed to community and economic development projects. 

Funding by way of loans makes up 45 percent of the total. Grants make up 30 percent, and equity investment the last 25 percent. 

To get the green light to be in the room with potential funders, all of the organizations were required to first qualify by completing an IC Request For Proposal (RFP). The RFP was then examined and cleared by St. Louis Fed Bank staffers.  

The north St. Louis organizations making pitches for funds were: Northside Community Housing – Sarah Corridor Project; Dream Builders 4 Equity – Summer Youth Academy; Tabernacle Community Development Corp. – The Hub; Justine Petersen – Gateway Neighborhood Fund; Better Family Life Inc. – Business Start-Up Training; and St. Louis Integrated Health Network – A Coordinated CHW Career Pipeline: Focused on Stability and Retention.  

“The overarching goal of the Community Reinvestment Initiatives team is to enhance the CRA ecosystem,” Yvonne Sparks, assistant vice president and director of Community Reinvestment Initiatives for the St. Louis Fed, explained.

Along with presenting the IC program, the team provides outreach, education, training and technical assistance.  

Many of the north side organizations were grateful for the opportunity and also networked with one another. 

“This is excellent,” said Michael Burns, president of Northside Community Housing, 4067 Lincoln Ave. in The Ville neighborhood. “We have been approaching banks individually to get CRA dollars, but this made it much easier by having them all in one place at one time to do one pitch.”

In his pitch for a grant/investment of $350,000 to renovate NSCH’s community center/offices and stabilize the structural integrity of the former Sara Lou Cafe, Burns spoke of the historical significance and former famed residents of The Ville. 

“They all came from this community, but over the years, this community has received a lot of disinvestment,” he said. “But with partners and others, we’re working very hard to change the trajectory of what’s going on in that community, and we’ve been doing those this by doing what we consider a motto, which is: changing lives and building communities.” 

Thus far, NSCH has amassed $120,000 from participating in Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) tax credits to help facilitate fundraising. 

“We were really glad to see Northside Community Housing involved in this program,” said Stacy Clay, director of community affairs for First Bank. “First Bank has already supported Northside in some of their efforts.”

Clay added that First Bank “thinks that it is important that communities have a place to gather where resources can be aggregated to support the people within walking distance and a part of their community.” 

Last year, First Bank extended $20,000 to Northside. 

During the 10-minute speed-networking rounds, Burns said he was happy to see bankers such as Clay from whom he had already secured funds, because it was like having a co-signer. 

“The most unique thing for me as I went around the tables, there were banks there that I already had a relationship with, and they helped to build my case with the bank I didn’t have relationships with,” Burns said. 

First Bank supported about 70 percent of the organizations last year and was liked what it saw this year even more.

“We’re very impressed with what we’re seeing here today and look forward to the second round to have more conversations with those folks and see where First Bank can make a difference in these communities these organizations are looking to serve,” Clay said. “These are tremendous opportunities for banks to get involved in the community.”

Michael Woods, executive director of Dream Builders 4 Equity, said he was hopeful and inspired by all of the amazing and different organizations and businesses. 

“It’s just exciting to see what happens in the region, because we have what we need to actually see change happen,” he said. 

Co-founded by Neal Richardson, Dream Builders gives at-risk youths the opportunity to build financial ownership in real estate and to write and sell books about their experience. 

“We hear about the project all the time, but then we come here and I hear about projects that I’ve never heard of before – which in some ways is not great, but also wonderful to know that what we’re working on and what all of these other organizations are working on can build together,” said Nikki Woelfel, vice president of community development at Carrollton Bank. 

“We’re all collectively in St. Louis after a really long time, finally doing things together that can impact communities in kind of a multiplier-effect way,” she said. “And I’m excited to hear about programs all the way to the tip of north St. Louis County. It’s all to to build better, safer, stable communities, and I love that.”

Bill Beene Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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