Photograph of the Winston-Salem State University’s student union building, shown in the evening, from the perspective of the pedestrian walkway in front of it. The walkway is planted with young trees. The two-story building’s façade is mostly glass; and near the entrance, a solid panel extends to the height of the building, with “WSSU” written vertically in large letters (courtesy of WSSU Photo: Garrett Garms). Photograph taken from ground level looking up at the Winston-Salem State University clock tower at dusk. The tower is made of brick highlighted with light-colored stone, and two of its clock faces are shown. Trees are planted around the tower. Photograph taken from street level of the front façade of a two-story, flat roofed building. The building, with the entrance in a bay projecting in front of the main façade, has few windows. The building is approximately three feet above the street on a terrace containing a narrow lawn, a walkway parallel to the building, and a line of shrubs directly in front of the façade. Photograph of the lobby of the Enterprise Center, furnished with a wood-paneled reception desk, a leather sofa, chairs, and a side table with reading material. Photograph of two women and a man in an office. One of the women sits at a wood office desk. A filing cabinet and certificates hanging on a wall are also in the office. Photograph of approximately a dozen people seated at tables looking toward the front of the room. On the tables are sandwiches, sodas, and water bottles. Photograph of six woven baskets holding tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and zucchini and other produce. The baskets are on a table standing in a lawn. Photograph of a large meeting room set with tables displaying jewelry and other wares; groups of people talk to each other and examine the items on display. A decorated Christmas tree stands in the background.

 

Home >Case Studies >The S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation Revitalizes Neighborhoods near Winston-Salem State University

 

The S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation Revitalizes Neighborhoods near Winston-Salem State University

 

Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) was founded in central North Carolina in 1892 to teach the children of freed slaves. One of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities, the school currently enrolls 6,200 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels and is known for its programs in the health sciences and education. In 1998, driven in part by its mission to forge “a progressive response to the needs of society,” WSSU established the S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation (SGACDC). The nonprofit, named after the university’s founder and first president, was created to stabilize and improve conditions in its primary service area, the three census tracts surrounding the campus that include the Columbia Heights, East Winston, and Claremont neighborhoods. To achieve its mission of “nurturing success in business and neighborhoods,” SGACDC prioritizes affordable housing, neighborhood development, and preserving buildings important to the African American community, according to the organization’s executive director Carol Davis.

Source:

Winston-Salem State University. 2005. “Serving Society: Innovative Research and Other Scholarly Activity,” 14-15. Accessed 30 May 2014; S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation website. Accessed 15 May 2014; Email correspondence from Carol Davis, 29 May 2014; Interview with Carol Davis, 24 February 2014

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Housing and Community Renewal

From its inception, SGACDC has sought to reverse disinvestment in older housing stock in the neighborhoods surrounding WSSU. Seeing homeownership as a route to neighborhood stability, SGACDC razed some buildings, rehabilitated others, and built new homes, resulting in 19 homes that local low-income, first-time homebuyers purchased. SGACDC also provided the buyers with mortgage education and $200,000 in downpayment assistance. The new homeowners have created significant, community-wide stability, according to Pat Billings, president of the Southeast Neighborhood Association, a local civic organization. SGACDC plans to purchase and renovate 20 more vacant, substandard homes to provide more homeownership opportunities, with funding from a $100,000 Priority Markets Initiative grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation’s Leading the Way Home® program; the city of Winston-Salem also contributed funds to the effort.

SGACDC has also promoted community stability and renewal through its work to redevelop the three-mile segment of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive running the length of its target area. In 2008, in collaboration with the city and the neighboring community, SGACDC launched a broad-based initiative using HUD funds to commission an economic development study and strategic plan for the MLK Corridor, as it is known locally. The study sought to advance both WSSU’s growth and the economic viability of the university’s neighbors. After more than a year of planning and multiple community meetings, the MLK Corridor study was completed and an overlay zoning district was enacted.

As part of this initiative, Russell Smith, a professor of planning at WSSU, prepared new zoning regulations and design guidelines for the corridor, which include smaller signs and parking located to the side and rear of buildings. Smith conducted visual preference surveys that provided residents with the opportunity to envision and set the parameters for development going forward. Smith’s students, who designed the surveys and attended community meetings, had the chance to experience community involvement first-hand. Davis explains, “We’re optimistic that future development will be more coordinated and attractive,” citing a CVS Pharmacy with landscaping, brick facades, and pedestrian-friendly benches that were designed in response to residents’ requests.

The project has not only improved development in the area, says Smith, but also brought the community’s expectations in line with the area’s potential. The rezoning process showed “residents that this is a great location for businesses, residences, and ancillary uses to the university and student body. It helped people realize we deserve a lot more.”

Source:

Email correspondence and interview with Carol Davis; Interview with Pat Billings, 10 April 2014; S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation. 2013. “Wells Fargo donates $6 million across 67 nonpprofits,” Center Connection Enewsletter, November, 1. Accessed 30 May 2014.

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Source:

Email correspondence and interview with Carol Davis.

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Source:

Interview with Russell Smith, 25 February 2014; Interview with Carol Davis.

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Source:

Interview with Russell Smith.

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SGACDC Enterprise Center

In addition to better planning and design along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, SGACDC recognizes the community’s need for new employment and business opportunities. To address these issues, SGACDC established the city’s only small-business incubator, the Enterprise Center, in the former Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club building near WSSU’s campus, thus preserving a neighborhood hub and iconic symbol of hope to the community. With renovations financed by approximately $1.5 million in grants in 2009 and 2010 from HUD’s Office of University Partnerships, $700,000 from the city, and $100,000 from the Golden Leaf Foundation, the business incubator opened in 2011 to create new jobs among low-income individuals through the creation or expansion of small businesses primarily in SGACDC’s target neighborhoods.

Source:

Email correspondence and interview with Carol Davis; Winston-Salem State University. 2009. “HUD HBCU Application.”

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The Enterprise Center not only provides office space, conference rooms, Internet, and other utilities to its associates but also support services to community businesses. Services include technical assistance with business planning and evaluation, bookkeeping, marketing, loan applications, and tax preparation. The center also manages a $150,000 microenterprise loan pool funded by HUD.

Also offering services at the incubator is the Center for Entrepreneurship, operated by WSSU’s School of Business and Economics. Graduate students pursuing their masters of business administration degrees provide business assistance while gaining real-word experience. Through a grant provided by the DataMax Foundation, the Center for Entrepreneurship also hosts a monthly series of E-Talks, where successful businesspeople from the Winston-Salem area share their experience and offer advice to community entrepreneurs.

Source:

Email correspondence with Carol Davis; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2010. “HUD Awards $7.4 Million to 10 Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Press release, 16 September.

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Source:

Email correspondence with Carol Davis; Winston-Salem State University. 2005. “Serving Society: Innovative Research and Other Scholarly Activity,” 14-15. Accessed 30 May 2014.

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Source:

Email correspondence with Carol Davis; Interview with Aparna Shivram, 26 February 2014.

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The Enterprise Center currently houses 18 minority- and/or woman-owned businesses, ranging in size from 2 to 20 employees, including communications companies, healthcare firms, and real estate offices. According to Enterprise Center program manager Aparna Shivram, who started working at the incubator as a graduate student, the variety of businesses housed in the center is one of the incubator’s greatest strengths. “Because they’re working with each other, they can offer more to mid- and large-scale companies,” she says. Over the past two years, three businesses have outgrown the incubator and moved to larger spaces.

Taken together, these small businesses have created an equivalent of 36 fulltime jobs and generated over $1.7 million in revenue for owners and their employees. According to Davis, the services provided by the Enterprise Center, which Mayor Allen Joines recently called “the best hands-on training center in the city,” have resulted in sustainable businesses and increased incomes and net worth for participants in the center’s programs, as well as community revitalization.

By summer 2015, with the support of a $1.2 million grant from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and $500,000 from the city, SGACDC plans to complete its next phase of renovations: approximately 15,000 square feet to accommodate some of the entrepreneurs on the wait list. In particular, SGACDC plans to create an innovation lab with high-speed Internet to attract e-commerce and digital media companies. Davis explains that these efforts are also intended to expand the center’s partnerships with WSSU, including engaging students in WSSU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Source:

Email correspondence with Carol Davis.

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Source:

Email correspondence and interview with Carol Davis.

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Simon’s Green Acre Community Garden and the Banquet Center

SGACDC’s mission includes contributing to the vitality and livability of the surrounding area through its community garden and banquet center. Simon’s Green Acre, an organic community garden that launched in 2011 in a former football field behind the Enterprise Center, meets a serious community need; according to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, two of the three low-income census tracts in which SGACDC operates are food deserts with minimal or no access to fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, and dairy products. Over the past several years, the garden has given away 12,000 pounds of produce to garden volunteers, soup kitchens, food pantries, and local residents, including local seniors living on fixed incomes who would not otherwise be able to afford fresh, locally grown food. During the 2013 growing season, 10 groups kept plots, including the Cooperative Extension Service of Forsyth County, which trained gardeners and provided some materials to get the garden started. Another local partner, Wake Forest University, used a movie series to facilitate a conversation within the community about food, nutrition, and gardening. One of the movies, “Foodways and Roadways,” was produced by Jessica Pic, a graduate of the Wake Forest University Documentary Film Program, and Margaret Savoca, research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Savoca is also serving as the lead organizer of the community garden for 2014.

Local partners also make use of the Enterprise Conference and Banquet Center. Created from a gymnasium during renovation of the Boys & Girls Club building, the conference center retains the building’s identity as a neighborhood gathering place. With a capacity of 300 people, the conference center has hosted a variety of events including banquets, job fairs, professional development meetings, community movie nights, neighborhood meetings, weddings, receptions, and family reunions. Five neighborhood residents now have jobs in the conference center, and the numerous events held there provide income for local chefs.

Source:

Email correspondence and interview with Carol Davis; U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Designated Food Desert Census Tracts,” 88. Accessed 15 May 2014.

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Source:

Email correspondence with Carol Davis.

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Source:

Winston-Salem State University. 2009. “HUD HBCU Application”; Email correspondence and interview with Carol Davis; Interview with Russell Smith.

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Source:

Interview with Pat Billings.

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“It’s a Win-Win”

In 2009, SGACDC calculated an increase of approximately $2 million in the area’s tax base as a result of improved housing, new businesses, and stabilized neighborhoods. An equally beneficial effect of SGACDC has been its role as “an important conduit” between the community and the university, says Smith. For example, in response to community concerns, WSSU recently agreed to revise its original plans for a parking structure on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the gateway to the community. Instead, the university may build offices, apartments, and shops on the street front and a parking deck in the back, Smith says. For its part, WSSU benefits from the hands-on learning experiences that the Enterprise Center provides students, including a virtual hospital where health sciences students can practice skills on lifelike mannequins. Improving the communities around the campus and expanding the curriculum to include real-world experience makes WSSU more desirable to prospective students.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of SGACDC’s significance to the community is the degree to which it has nurtured the Southeast Neighborhood Association, the civic group that uses the newly renovated Enterprise Center building for neighborhood meetings. This permanent home, Billings says, has enabled the association to become stable and increase its membership. Billings adds that Davis and SGACDC connect them with opportunities such as grants to rehabilitate three deteriorating homes belonging to local seniors, efforts that earned the neighborhood group a Project We Care award from the city in 2014. SGACDC is also helping the association incorporate as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. “The Enterprise Center has been a godsend blessing for us,” Billings says. “It’s enabled us to have stability and to be able to venture out and realize better outreach programs for the community.”