The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, September 17, 2017 1:00 am

The seeds of growth

Foundation helps get community projects going

David Bennett

Throughout our 95-year history, the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne has been known as a provider of grants to charities and scholarships to students. But in the last few years, our mission has expanded.

We are emerging as a philanthropic angel investor for important community projects.

In the business world, an angel investor provides starting or growth capital to promising ventures. In Allen County, the Community Foundation has provided initial seed capital for several exciting developments.

We have been blessed with significant growth the last few years. Our assets stand at just a shade less than $150 million, and last year our local grant-making topped $10 million. We intend to use a portion of these assets to provide critical – albeit relatively small – support for community development projects in Allen County.

While our financial support may just be a small piece of the overall project cost, our capital can be leveraged to provide a larger investment. For example, our dollars were the first to be committed to launch riverfront development efforts. When local stakeholders came together to name riverfront redevelopment a top community priority, the Community Foundation used matching money from Lilly Endowment Inc. to generate donor support. We made more than $4 million available to riverfront planners – who leveraged that capital using the resources of the city's Legacy Fund and money from the Regional Development Authority.

In the coming months, you will learn more about the Model Group's plans for redevelopment of The Landing. The Community Foundation provided a loan of $1.2 million as the initial seed capital to get that project off the ground. In this case, the developers leveraged additional dollars from many other sources to help make this dream a reality.

Sometimes, tearing down is a necessary first step in building up. That's the situation faced by the planners for Phase I of riverfront development.

At the corner of Harrison and Superior streets is a structure known as the Jefferson-Smurfit building. Aside from the cool name (that of the company that once owned the structure), the building is also an example of an architectural style known as Art Moderne. But the structure is also in a floodplain, meaning that possible renovation would be impractical and overly expensive.

That's where the Community Foundation came in. We made a grant of $500,000 to the Fort Wayne Downtown Development Trust, which will use our funding to acquire and demolish the structure. The footprint of the building is strategically located between the starting point for riverfront development and a new residential facility on Superior Street known as Superior Lofts.

While this type of impact investing is new for us, we have maintained our grant-making to local charitable organizations. Last year, more than 80 organizations received more than $2 million in operating grant support from our Community Impact Fund – an amount that has risen 30 percent since 2012. We intend to continue to maintain this level of commitment.

The Community Foundation is ready to build upon its strong foundation and continue to grow as a community catalyst – inspiring ideas and igniting action.

Vincent Van Gogh once said that great things are done by a series of small things brought together. The Community Foundation intends to continue to play a meaningful role as local projects are developed in the future – improving the quality of life for all of us.

David Bennett is executive director of the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne.

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