City joins non-profit in seeking grant aid

Columbia and a development group are teaming to build low-income housing and retail space
Monday, July 16, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:18 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The city of Columbia has agreed to join the Covenant Community Development Corp. in applying for a nearly $1.5 million federal grant to fund a development project at the intersection of Garth Avenue and Sexton Road.

The project has been in the works for four years and is geared toward providing affordable housing and retail space to low-income residents and businesses. The plan calls for constructing an ALPS grocery store and a mixed-use building, as well as renovating the Labor Temple at 611 N. Garth Ave. and a former bar next door.

The Economic Development Administration, which is under the U.S. Department of Commerce and is administering the grant, made co-application with the city a requirement.

“(Covenant) hasn’t been in existence that long,” said Assistant City Manager Paula Hertwig-Hopkins. “They haven’t had a grant history of applying for these sorts of grants, so the EDA wanted the local governmental body to be the co-applicant.”

Launched in 2002 with the support of Grace Covenant Church, Covenant Community Development Corp. is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing low-income communities. Its development project has been a fairly contentious issue with neighborhood residents since the project was proposed.

According to the co-application agreement, the city would be responsible for the project’s administration and operation under the grant if Covenant becomes unable to perform its duties or dissolves.

The City Council adopted the resolution to co-apply for the grant at its July 2 meeting. Mayor Darwin Hindman argued in support of the agreement, which places no financial obligation on the city.

“This has potential for doing an enormous amount of good in a neighborhood that needs it,” Hindman said. “It would be worth the risk.”

The $1,463,400 grant would fund about 40 percent of the project’s estimated cost of $3,576,204. Other proposed funding includes a $499,386 Small Business Administration loan, an $800,000 loan from local banks, Missouri Neighborhood Assistance Program tax credits and other grants and donations.

Covenant Executive Director Dana Battison said Covenant has worked with the city on the co-application agreement since November.

“It’s been a long process,” she said. “Basically, everything’s together at this point. The city’s co-application was a big part of it.”

Battison said Covenant is almost finished with the pre-application it will send to the EDA.

“The way something like this works is you have a pre-application, and then if they like your pre-application, they ask for a full application,” Battison said. “If they come back with the request for a full proposal, then it’s 90 percent that they want to do this.”

If the EDA approves the full application by the end of August, Battison said Covenant could break ground in November in a best-case scenario.

“Our goal is to get the foundations in by the end of December,” Battison said. “If everything goes OK, we expect to have the buildings completed by end of March and furnishing by the end of April, early May.”

Battison said Covenant has received six or seven applications for business tenants. Stores that applied include a bakery and coffee shop, a soul food restaurant, an ice cream shop, an Afrocentric-Christian gift shop and an urban clothing and book store.

Battison said a local on-site operator for the ALPS grocery store has been found, though she declined to release the name to the public at this time, citing potential impact on the individual’s current employment.

Ultimately, breaking ground on the project would depend on Covenant receiving the grant.

“The grant is really important to the project, basically,” Battison said. “It’s huge.”

Battison said she is hoping to hear back from the EDA in the next 30 days with a request for a full application, which the city will sign.

“We’re hoping and praying that this works out and the EDA comes through for us and works on this,” Battison said. “It certainly will create a lot of jobs, and it’s kind of up their street.”

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