All posts by kathygcf

Beyond the Grant Check

Welcome to The Greater Cincinnati Foundation‘s blog, Leadership Matters. In this forum, GCF’s leaders will focus on timely and challenging community issues, and the role that GCF, its donors, and other partners play in creating a more thriving and vibrant community. 

In our third post, GCF’s Kathy Merchant shares several items that speak to GCF’s strong commitment to racial equity, a thread that carries forward from 2001 to today.

Washington Park

When demonstrated by a community foundation, such as The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, leadership is not just about the number and size of grant checks. Leadership is how GCF uses the collective power of the people—both past and present—who contribute their time, expertise, and charitable dollars to this permanent community resource.

Nowhere is that more significant than in long-term, challenging community issues like ensuring quality education, revitalizing once-vibrant neighborhoods, and creating a more equitable community for all.

Last week, I outlined how GCF deployed “intentional influence” beginning in 2001 to help our community work together to tackle issues of race and equity in a blog post for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Recent events in Ferguson, Mo., have resulted in the nation looking for examples of communities who have tackled the issue of police-community relations in particular, as they reflect on racial equity in communities. This brings the focus back to Cincinnati—both what we have accomplished and the work we still have to do.

St. Louis Public Radio visited Cincinnati to learn from many organizations, including GCF, whether our experience can help Ferguson bring its police and community together around reform and healing. A key takeaway is that this process is long and needs many partners to make it successful. We’re proud of what’s we’ve all done together in Cincinnati, but make no mistake – there is still work to be done.

Ben Hecht, CEO of Living Cities, and I co-authored a piece on education and the racial divide for Huffington Post. The case for disaggregating data by race to measure how our students are achieving is strong, but using the data effectively to improve student outcomes is challenging.

Ensuring a more equitable community for everyone who lives in Greater Cincinnati is a long-term endeavor. It’s always on GCF’s radar, and we hope it’s on yours.

For Additional Reading

The New York Times‘ writer Nicholas Kristof wrote a series on racial equity this fall:

Kathy Merchant is President/CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Learn more about her here.

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Urban Renaissance in Covington

Welcome to our blog, Leadership Matters. In this forum, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation‘s leaders will focus on timely and challenging community issues, and the role that GCF, its donors, and other partners play in creating a more thriving and vibrant community.

In our second post, GCF’s Kathy Merchant looks at what it takes to help revitalize our communities over the long term – it’s not quick, and it’s not easy, but it matters.

GCF Donors take a tour of Covington
GCF donors take a tour of Covington. See the rest of our tour photos on Facebook.

Transformation of Covington’s neighborhoods is advancing at a rapid pace! Just 15 years ago, only a few community organizations toiled in the trenches to slow neighborhood decline – even as the riverfront was being successfully developed in Covington and Newport.

Last month we took some GCF donors to see Covington’s revitalization, starting at the Center for Great Neighborhoods where community developers have been hard at work since 1976. We saw the proof of how far things have come thanks to increased and sustained investment in both traditional and new groups

Covington Row Houses
Row houses in Covington being renovated.

Revitalizing Covington started with a vision for change. Forward Quest (now known as Vision 2015) called for an “urban renaissance” in Northern Kentucky. Slowly but surely, resources and organizations joined to jump start the revitalization effort. The projects our donors saw on the Covington tour resulted from many years of hard work, collaboration among multiple partners, and a series of complex funding strategies.

GCF is proud to have been a strong and committed partner throughout this process. What made this possible? Our community’s generous donors.

Since 2000, GCF has shared a steady stream of grants, loans, and equity investments from our endowed community funds and from The Northern Kentucky Fund of GCF to renovate buildings, start new businesses, advance K-12 and higher education, support lifelong learning, build a stronger workforce, and revitalize neighborhoods.

The total invested by GCF in the leading nonprofit organizations featured in this post is $7.3 million.

GCF was instrumental in bringing the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. LISC is a national organization that works through local programs to help community residents transform distressed neighborhoods. LISC provides financial resources, shapes public policy, and provides technical assistance. Since 2000, LISC has helped to renovate nearly 2,000 houses and apartments and 1.2 million square feet of commercial space in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Starting in 2007, LISC tapped Covington for a comprehensive initiative called PlaceMatters, patterned on a national LISC model called Building Sustainable Communities.

Mutual Building
Mutual Building

A major new development tool accelerating Northern Kentucky’s urban renaissance is the Catalytic Fund. GCF provided an impact investment (loan) to help seed a $10 million development fund, and also helped get the Catalytic Fund off the ground. The Fund’s work includes redevelopment of the historic Mutual Building, right in the center of Covington’s re-emerging business district, creating market-rate housing and commercial space. Restoring this architectural jewel will catalyze the return of the area as Covington’s hub of New Economy business activity. The Catalytic Fund provided subordinate mortgage gap financing for this project and coordinated all financing. (UpTech, an anchor tenant, is described below.)

Cincinnati Development Fund (CDF) has worked for 25-plus years to finance community development efforts in the region. GCF made its first impact investment to CDF in 2002 to help begin a process of diversifying the downtown neighborhood by adding more middle income residents to alleviate the concentration of poverty, and has since approved a second loan. Now, CDF is financing a 32-unit rental conversion project in historic downtown Covington, complementing the commercial and other projects of the Catalytic Fund.

UpTech is a start-up business accelerator formed in 2012 to leverage the talent and knowledge generated by Northern Kentucky University’s College of Informatics. GCF provided $45,000 in start-up funding for operating expenses, and recently approved a $200,000 equity investment.

Life Learning Center
Life Learning Center

Life Learning Center will soon have a new home to provide comprehensive life skills training and employment support in the formerly vacant and blighted Stewart Iron Works building adjacent to the Center for Great Neighborhoods. The Catalytic Fund has provided critical development services to get this project done. GCF provided grants to plan and develop this new community resource.

Progress in these neighborhoods and the ways it is funded are ground-breaking (pun intended) and are being noticed around the country. In fact, LISC chose Cincinnati for its recent national board meeting because we have so many great projects going in our region.

GCF is proud to have the flexible charitable capital and patience to make investments in long-term change, even when the results may not be immediate.

Covington Organizations Summary of Investments

Which brings us back to our donors. We are able to make investments like this using endowed funds entrusted to GCF by generations of donors who care about our community, but have no way to predict what its needs will be in the future. If not for these donors’ generosity, we would not have the resources to support community change that really matters.

Kathy Merchant is President/CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Learn more about her here.

Images via GCF/Catalytic Fund

Save Our Icons

Welcome to The Greater Cincinnati Foundation‘s new blog, Leadership Matters. In this forum, GCF’s leaders will focus on timely and challenging community issues, and the role that GCF, its donors, and other partners play in creating a more thriving and vibrant community.

In this first post, GCF’s Kathy Merchant recaps the unprecedented community effort to save two important historic buildings, which culminated this week in a vote by Hamilton County Commissioners not to support a fully vetted and viable plan to permanently fix Union Terminal and Music Hall.

Union Terminal and Music Hall by Wally Gobetz
Union Terminal and Music Hall

The iconic Music Hall and Union Terminal are hubs of education, economic, and artistic activity that have helped our region thrive for 136 and 81 years, respectively. The museums and cultural organizations that call these buildings home have a significant direct and indirect economic impact in the region. The buildings are critical anchors for economic development and cultural enrichment in Queensgate and Over-The-Rhine, two important neighborhoods in our urban core. Like most great cities, our cultural facilities are located in densely populated areas, convenient for residents, and yet inviting for visitors from many places.

But these iconic buildings need us now.

In July, they made the National Trust for Historical Preservation’s list of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Buildings.” Other investments, both past and future, may be jeopardized if these buildings are left to decay. Their unique and historically significant architecture helps to define and differentiate Cincinnati from other Midwestern cities—a plus in attracting companies and people to our region.

Cultural and economic development consultants have, for many years, concluded that our region “fights above its weight” in the cultural sector. We are unique among benchmark American communities as a destination to live, work, and visit. Many successful cities such as Denver, Charlotte, Indianapolis and Kansas City yearn to create the range of cultural assets we already have here, and they are willing to pay for them.

For more than a half century, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) and its generous donors have supported the development of a diverse cultural sector throughout our region.  Fueled by this insight, GCF has partnered with cultural institutions and other philanthropists for more than a decade to figure out how we can “diversify and grow the pie” of resources to support the continued growth of the cultural sector.

The work of the Cultural Facilities Task Force, co-convened by GCF and the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, is an unprecedented collaborative effort that produced a comprehensive renovation plan for Union Terminal and Music Hall.

Brilliantly led by former P&G chairman Bob McDonald and teams of experts from engineering, architecture, public finance, and philanthropy, the Task Force’s review was thorough and represents a huge step toward changing the dynamic of how we do business as a region. The financing proposal is prudent, paving the way for a balanced public and private approach to saving our icons. We believe that the mix of investment sources, which includes a ¼ cent increase in the local sales tax, is reasonable and achievable at an annual cost of $23 per taxpayer, whether they live in or are visiting Hamilton County. You can read more about the Task Force’s report here (PDF).

This solid renovation and financing plan was presented to the Tax Levy Review Committee and Hamilton County Commissioners with a request to permit the residents of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to vote on the ¼ cent sales tax in November. With some suggested modifications, the TLRC recommended sending the sales tax levy to voters. Despite strong support from Commissioner Todd Portune, Commissioners Chris Monzel and Greg Hartmann declined to allow this plan to be placed on the November ballot. Instead, they passed a measure that eliminates Music Hall from the equation and does not fully address the needs of Union Terminal.

The Greater Cincinnati Foundation is committed to working with the Cultural Facilities Task Force toward the complete restoration and repair of Music Hall and Union Terminal.

Image Credits: Wally Gobetz

Kathy Merchant is President/CEO of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. Learn more about her here.