An Evolving Organization
As described earlier, there was not a grand plan for NPI tied to long- term outcomes for neighborhood improvement – progress, rather than transformation was the goal. Growth of NPI’s operations from operating support for a select number of CDCs to include two subsidiaries (Village Capital Corporation and New Village Corporation) and various special projects and initiatives was opportunity- and need-driven. It led to a more complex organizational structure that evolved over time within the overall budget constraints and our mission of supporting CDCs within the City of Cleveland. Progress and improvement not catalytic change continued to be the goal.
Leadership and Staff
Essential to NPI’s success were upward of two hundred volunteer lay leaders that served on the NPI board, its subsidiaries and committees: corporate CEO’s, bankers, foundations, the City, and neighborhood activists. They, along with staff, combined private-sector expertise, neighborhood smarts, and commitment to mission. As Mort Mandel claimed, “It’s all about the people.”
NPI was an outcome-oriented organization representing four classes of membership: Foundation, Corporate, City and Neighborhood. The Board’s role evolved from one that met quarterly to review foundation proposals and evaluate performance to a complex operation with multiple subsidiaries, partnerships and committees chaired by NPI Board members. As the organization became increasingly complex and technical, explaining NPI’s role and importance in supporting and advocating for CDCs and their projects was a challenge.
The NPI Board chairs were crucial to keeping NPI as a major player in the community development system and maintaining a level of gravitas in Board deliberations. They included James Ross and Steve Percy from BP America, Henry Meyer III and Beth Mooney from Key Bank, Bud Koch from Charter One, David Goldberg from Ohio Savings and Paul Clark from PNC,
While the chairpersons set the tone and the standard for engagement, several other Board members through the years contributed to success of the organization. Among them were Mel Pye, formerly chair of the Cleveland Roundtable and CEO of Fairfax Place, who served as Vice-Chair and kept NPI focused and productive during leadership transitions; John Shields CEO of First National Supermarkets and Cleveland Tomorrow rep and long standing Board member; Mark Nasca, a real estate finance professional who served on both the VCC Board and NPI as did Michael Taylor from PNC bank and Tom Coyne a partner in the law firm of Thompson Hine and Flory (later NPI Board chair) and Lee Chilcott whose family foundation helped keep the CDC operating support and capacity building program on track; Bob Kaye who chaired New Village Corporation and encouraged us to do deals that mattered and do them well; Mikelann Rensel, director of the neighborhood coalition (CNDC), and along with other community reps such as Peggy Zone Fisher who made sure that NPI stayed true to its mission of supporting CDCs.
|Tanya Allmond||Ned Handy||Michael Polensek|
|John Anoliefo||Karen Horn||Melvin Pye|
|Gloria Aron||Mayor Frank Jackson||Reynard Ramsey|
|Rev. Elmo Bean||Kathryn Jaksic||Mikelann Rensel|
|Richard Bogomolny||Ron Jaksic||Edward Richard|
|Anita Brindza||Jerry Jarrett||Joseph D. Roman|
|Robert Broadbent||Chris Johnson||James Ross (Past Chair)|
|Ter52pxri Hamilton Brown||Robert Kaye||Daryl R. Rush|
|Geri Burns||Inez Killingsworth||Clinton Sampson|
|Kelly Cartales||Charles J. Koch (Past Chair)||Joseph M. Scaminace|
|Lee Chilcotte||Barbara Langhenry||Michael Schoop|
|J. William Christ||India Pierce Lee||Richard Shatten|
|Zeddie Coley||Adrian Maldonado||John Shields|
|Tom Coyne||Rev. Charles Mathews||Helen Smith|
|Fred Cox||Timothy Melena||Rev. Hilton Smith|
|David Daberko||Emily Lipovan||Michael Taylor|
|James Delaney||Mark McDermott||Bernard Thomkins|
|Paul Feinberg||Henry L. Meyer III (Past Chair)||Lou Tisler|
|Collen Gilson||Peggy Zone Fisher||Timothy L. Tramble|
|David Goldberg (Past Chair)||Beth E. Mooney (Past Chair)||Chris Warren|
|Louise Gissendaner||Mark Nasca||Linda Warren|
|Rev. Sterling Glover||Tom Newland||Jay Westbrook|
|Merle Gordon||Steve Percy (Past Chair)||T. Wilson|
|Richard Hammond||Judge Raymond Pianka||Henry Zucker|
NPIs small, talented professional staff were a mix of neighborhood activists and professionals with advanced degrees from prestige universities in business, planning, law, and organizational development. They were diverse, mission focused, and expected to multi-task and work as a team. Given the range of functions (grant administration, planning, human capital and leadership development, real estate finance and development, R&D, policy advocacy, fund development and general traffic cop), staff were either very efficient or over extended–sometimes both. The challenge for NPI was that since we were a lean organization with few redundancies when key staff left, we were always hard pressed to maintain momentum.
Several staff members went on to play senior roles with local foundations, city government, and the private sector. This mobility between sectors broke down silos and kept the big picture in focus making it easier to work as a team. Staff that went on to play leadership roles include: two City CD directors (Warren and Rush), Vice president for Programs for the Cleveland Foundation (Pierce-Lee), Chief of Staff for Mayor Campbell (Janik), Case Western University VP for real estate (Berusch), Director Community Stabilization of the Cuyahoga Land Bank (Kimlin), President ShoreBank Cleveland (Christensen), and Director of the Campus District at CSU (Reichtell).
In addition to senior staff an important factor in NPI’s success was the contribution of NPI’s long time office manager, Rae Shea, who maintained the institutional memory, made sure that deadlines were met, personnel issues and last-minute screw ups were handled effectively and to many was the face of the organization. Most successful organizations have someone who keeps things together and does the necessary work well, often without public recognition. Rae was that person for NPI.
NPI has evolved and developed new approaches to community building in response to the changed environment, but whether it’s viewed as a central address for neighborhood reinvestment or one of many sources, is unclear.
Cleveland Neighborhood Progress engaged the accounting firm Ernst and Young to develop a strategic plan in 2021, Whether CDP can remain an effective advocate or another civic gatekeeper remains to be seen.
The reader should form their own judgements about the new direction contained in the plan. (See www.clevelandnp.org)
The Cleveland Neighborhood Partnership and Quantum Leap
Over a 22-year period, the Cleveland Neighborhood Partnership Program provided $34 million in multi-year operating support to 25 CDCs. A competitive application process encouraged strategic planning, identification of neighborhood assets, and community engagement. The agreement with NPI specified outcomes and priorities, as well as how NPI would help the CDC achieve its goals. This memorandum of understanding helped NPI align its staff and financial resources. Performance based operating support was coupled with a comprehensive HR program for both Board and staff which built neighborhood capacity and the human capital necessary for success. Only two NPI-supported CDCs encountered significant organizational/financial problems, and one of those was related to a complex real estate transaction.
Over time, mature CDCs with successful track records didn’t need NPI for oversight and capacity building. Funding was another matter. We were never able to develop a “graduate” program for higher performing CDCs to sustain robust operations without NPI support.
CDC capacity-building and training became more diluted and was less a core function as the CDC system matured. The human capital agenda and supporting CDC staff and boards did not keep pace with challenges of a less favorable environment; in part this was due to national trends and declining interest of foundations in the CDC agenda. As a result, the Human Capital Development Initiative ceased funding the Quantum Leap program and other similar efforts nationally.
Our relationship with the local universities for training and professional development never evolved into the equivalent of the Mel King Institute for Community Building in Boston, partly because the State of Ohio eliminated financial support for CSU’s Center for Neighborhood Development. There is currently a renewed interest and commitment to CDC capacity building. How that evolves remains to be seen.
Finance and Real Estate Development
With a small, talented staff and a volunteer Board of senior bankers and real estate development professionals both VCC and NVC provided needed resources and support to a range of neighborhood projects in ways that enhanced the CDC agenda and NPI’s core mission.
In joint ventures with CDCs and with VCC pre-development financing, New Village Corporation successfully developed eleven projects throughout the city valued at over $200 million including 355 units of market rate housing, 130 elderly rental apartments, 75,000 square feet of commercial office space, two shopping centers, and three supermarkets.
For a non-profit subsidiary doing deals in distressed Cleveland neighborhoods with a CDC partner, the margins were always tight. NVC could not make a profit, but it could lose its shirt in a bad deal or with poor performance. This limited opportunity for fee-generating activity, growth, and risk mitigation. NVC by design was a niche operation that operated at the edge of the private market doing high risk deals. Whether it could have become a more robust operation with an expanded portfolio was never tested.
The NPI parent did not backstop NVC deals, with the exception of St. Lukes and the early stages of the Fries and Schuele block even though NVC partnerships would appear on year-end financial audits. VCC provided pre-development and financial support, NPI administrative and accounting services. NVC often pushed the foundations’ comfort levels by introducing new demands for support and warnings of potential risk in projects which might not have figured in their long-term priorities (See St. Lukes). Despite the dire effects of the sub-prime meltdown on the real estate market none of NVC projects cratered and it continues to operate as a viable neighborhood developer.
Village Capital Corporation played a central role in the neighborhood real estate finance system. Between 1992 and 2010, VCC funded 310 neighborhood projects with $74 million in loans, resulting in 6,597 residential units, 1,079,000 square feet of retail and more than $790 million in total project investment. Village Capital’s flexible financing tools and hands-on approach to project finance essential components of the layered Cleveland “Baklava” financial system. Given the volume of transactions, many in distressed neighborhoods involving “hero deals”, the fact that VCC weathered the sub-prime melt down and retained a favorable credit rating from the US Treasury as a Community Development Finance Institution speaks to quality and commitment of professional staff and Board. Another contributing factor was the decision of the Cleveland Foundation to convert a $1 Million PRI loan to equity triggering another grant infusion from CDFI and substantially improving VCC’s debt to equity ratio. As a result, VCC was in the words of one Board member able to provide project life support for projects on the brink.
VCC was never able to go to “scale,” in part due to its narrowly drawn mission, its level of capitalization and increased competition from formerly aligned corporate investment pools for additional sources of federal funding.
Policy Research and Development
As an intermediary and a 501c3, NPI stayed out of politics by not supporting candidates and legislation. Its R&D function and potential policy role were never fully realized and were gradually ceded to others with good results in case of the Vacant Property Action Council.
That said, the range of R&D studies and initiatives described earlier addressed real issues and proposed viable solutions from a practitioner perspective. This work, however, did not translate into a core function or priority for either NPI or the foundation community. There was no support for creating a C-4 sister organization that could engage in political activity. We never developed a working relationship with the non-profit policy organizations in town, Policy Matters, Policy Bridge, and Community Solutions, nor did we work closely with the universities on a public-sector agenda. Enterprise and LISC, both nationally and state wide, were active in this area. The question of local political capacity to advocate for candidates and policies that would make a difference was never addressed.
As mentioned previously, for a more detailed account, see the compilation of reports and studies assembled by Bob Jaquay at the Western Reserve Historical Society.