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Cascade: No. 56, Winter 2004

Nonprofit Developer Active in Temple University Neighborhood

Beech Interplex, Inc., a nonprofit active in the neighborhood west of Temple University, is constructing 135 student housing units for 453 students and is assisting two private developers that plan to build 151 homeownership units and an additional 25 student-housing units.

An independent nonprofit that works closely with many community organizations, Beech focuses on the area near Cecil B. Moore Avenue, which was a thriving middle-class neighborhood in the 1930s and 1940s. The neighborhood fell into disrepair after many owners could not afford the major repairs needed on their homes and converted them into apartments. The neighborhood deteriorated further after riots in the late 1960s.

During the past nine years, Beech has developed a charter school for the Women's Christian Alliance (an 85-year-old social service provider) and 14 homeownership units, and the company renovated the building that contains Beech's offices, retail shops, and Temple University's small business development center. Beech acted as project manager for the owner of the Blue Horizon, a professional boxing venue since 1970, in a $2 million project that renovated the boxing site and created a multi-purpose facility.

Floyd W. Alston, president and CEO of Beech, said: "We do projects that require a lot of hand-holding and assembling of parcels. These projects wouldn't get done by private investors."

In late 2001, Beech launched the Beech Capital Venture Corporation (BCVC), a separately incorporated entity funded with a $1 million loan from a private investor. BCVC has made three loans totaling $192,000 and has made two commitments totaling $112,500, to such businesses as a construction company, incense manufacturer, grocery store, and car-repair firm. BCVC, which has no defaults and delinquencies on the loans, is providing technical assistance to the businesses through a grant from the CDFI Fund. In August 2004, the CDFI Fund of the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated BCVC as a Community Development Financial Institution. BCVC's loan fund serves businesses in North, West, and Northwest Philadelphia.

Beech is the community development partner with developer Bart Blatstein on a major complex at Cecil B. Moore Avenue and Broad Street that will include retail stores, restaurants, a theater, and apartments.

Meanwhile, the decision of Beneficial Savings Bank to build a full-service drive-through branch on Cecil B. Moore Avenue, says Alston, is a strong positive development, since there are very few branches in the surrounding community. Beech Interplex is developer of the new branch, which is expected to open in the first half of 2005.

In the future, Beech plans to renovate a mixed-use property that will include a restaurant, housing-management, and foundation offices; convert a school into housing for older people who are raising grandchildren; and develop a new library.

Much of Beech's operating budget is funded through development fees and rents, giving the nonprofit a strong degree of self-sufficiency. Beech's three full-time staff consists of Alston; Kenneth Scott, vice president and a former engineer; and Christine Brown, office manager. Larry J. Griffin, vice president of lending for BCVC, is a former lender at Berean Bank and Meridian Bank.

Alston grew up in North Philadelphia and welcomed the chance to continue his work in the neighborhood after he retired nearly 15 years ago as a vice president in community relations at CoreStates Bank, N.A. Since his retirement, Alston has also served on the Philadelphia school board for 10 years, including several years as its president.

From 1990 to 1995, a predecessor organization, the Beech Corporation, led a community clean-up to remove abandoned cars and graffiti, worked with about 250 homeowners to rehabilitate facades and systems, instituted school-based day-care and health programs, and formed joint ventures with other social-service providers.

"There were a great many people working hard in this area," Alston recalled, "but they weren't working together." Alston convened leaders of community organizations and city agencies involved in the area into a consortium. About 75 people from more than 50 organizations still meet several times a year in the consortium, which, Alston said, "has proved to be a very significant move to bring the community together."

Alston, who is 78, shared insights from his work. Nonprofits, he said, must have a degree of patience in dealing with bureaucracies and setbacks; get to know, understand, and learn to work with city, state, and federal officials; keep their commitments; and stay focused in their work and avoid being pulled off course by funding availability.

For information, contact Floyd W. Alston at (215) 763-8824 or beech@icdc.com.