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Community Learns What a Difference $47M, Spirit Can Make

With help from a local nonprofit, a San Diego neighborhood once blighted and unsafe is building a reputation as a model of how to turn things around.

“There’s been a lot of physical changes, but the most important change has been the spirit of cooperation among residents, their coming together, and having a sense of hope and belief that change is possible,” said Jennifer Vanica, chief executive of the nonprofit Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, which works to change communities through entrepreneurial projects and fostering the creation of businesses.

The Jacobs Foundation, which funds JCNI, was founded in 1988 by the late Joe Jacobs, who owned an engineering firm, in Pasadena.

On May 21, the area around Euclid Avenue and Market Street in Southeast San Diego celebrated the opening of the Joe and Vi Jacobs Center.

The 78,000-square-foot center is an ideal place to host seminars, conventions and community gatherings, Vanica says. It’s also intended as a launching pad for new businesses and jobs.


Creating Jobs

By having a state-of-the-art kitchen and plenty of meeting space, the site is intended to become a training ground where jobs are created.

Vanica says the project should generate about 200 jobs. In addition to work in the culinary industry, other jobs could be in events and facilities management, audiovisual work, and marketing and sales.

The Jacobs Foundation recruited residents to help plan and design the area’s shopping center, which opened in 2006, and the recently opened community center.

Some $47 million was invested in the two projects, according to the foundation.

Besides the community upgrade that has lifted spirits, residents were given a chance to share in the profits the projects generate by buying shares in Market Creek Partners LLC, a public corporation set up by the foundation.

Two years ago, the corporation held an initial public offering that attracted 415 investors who are residents of the neighborhood, which once had a reputation as one of the city’s most violent areas. Units were sold for $10 each, and under this structure, the residents/investors own 20 percent of the project.

Lefaua Leilua, a resident of the area since 1989 and a member of the design teams for an amphitheater and the community center, said the Market Creek projects have “given residents more pride in the community we live in.”

“People tend to take care of it because we do own it,” she added.


A New Approach

The concept of bringing residents into the financial investment equation of Market Creek Plaza came from the residents themselves, Vanica says.

The process of establishing the corporate vehicle to sell shares wasn’t easy, and broke new ground in community reinvestment strategies. The neighborhood and the foundation regularly host visitors from other community organizations around the country and the world who want to learn about the process, Vanica says.

The new center could generate about $5 million in revenue and should be self-sustaining in five to seven years, she says.

Other partners in this model for revitalization are national foundations and several big banks, including Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and Washington Mutual Bank.

The banks provided $30 million in loans to the projects through a federal program that allows for charging much lower interest rates. In return, the banks obtain tax credits.

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