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Groundbreaking on community center signals next phase in community transformation

There's a new phase to the renaissance taking place in southeastern San Diego in an area known as the Diamond Neighborhoods.

The partnership between local residents and the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation (JCNI) celebrated the groundbreaking for the new $23.5-million, 75,000-square foot Joe & Vi Jacobs Community Center.

A rendering of the Joe & Vi Jacobs Community Center at Market Creek Plaza.

Located at Market Creek Plaza, near the corner of Market Street and Euclid Avenue, the Joe & Vi Jacobs Community Center will be the heart of the larger Village Center planned by residents for the Market Street/Euclid Avenue corridor.

The community center will be a neighborhood gathering place that houses office, convention and meeting space, a job and career training center, a licensed cultural training kitchen, public art displays and the new headquarters for the JCNI, the operating arm of the Jacobs Family Foundation (JFF). The building is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2007.

Financing for the Joe & Vi Jacobs Community Center will be accomplished through a unique public-private partnership similar to the partnership that funded the rest of the plaza.

A $15 million New Markets Tax Credit loan for construction and long term financing has been secured through Clearinghouse CDFI. With a low interest rate, the NMTC loan makes it possible to fund twice as much community development work with the same amount of cash flow and keep more money in the community. Clearinghouse's second investment in this previously "underinvested" community brings essential resources into the community, literally funding resident-driven change.

The new Joe and Vi Jacobs Community Center is part of a broader and more comprehensive redevelopment effort and vision for the neighborhood. Called the Village Center at Euclid and Market, this project was approved by the City of San Diego's City of Villages program. The plan outlines transformation of an additional 35 acres of unused, untended property along the Euclid-Market corridor, turning it into a $250 million community hub where people can live, work and play.

This "village center" includes the construction of more than 800 housing units, retail and office space providing essential goods and services, a youth business park and open recreational space. Residents will have full access through public transportation and pedestrian linkages.

The plan, developed by hundreds of community residents, has broad support. Resident teams are hard at work shaping the elements of the village in partnership with JCNI.

The work began in 1997 with construction of Market Creek Plaza, the innovative commercial and cultural center that was the first in the country to be planned, designed, built, leased and now operated by teams of community residents.

The $23.5-million Plaza was the cornerstone project of philanthropist Joe Jacobs and his family's foundations. Working together, the foundations partner with local residents on revitalizing their neighborhoods and taking control of future development.

Market Creek Plaza, built on a 10-acre abandoned factory site, represents a major milestone in this process. Prior to the Plaza's construction, economic studies revealed that these neighborhoods were underserved by approximately 400,000 square feet of retail space. In addition, residents spent $60 million on essential goods and services outside their community.

That was more than eight years ago. Today, all 12 retail spaces at Market Creek Plaza are leased and open, including the first major chain grocery store in the community in 30 years. The Plaza created over 100,000 square feet of commercial space in the area and almost 200 new jobs, with another 300 jobs created during the construction phase. Sixty-nine percent of those construction contracts went to local women and minority-owned businesses.

Market Creek Plaza is both a commercial and cultural center. Located on the site is one of San Diego's best collections of multicultural public art, valued at more than $650,000. The collection includes portraits, cultural tapestry walkways, and the Sempra Children's Art Wall, all made by local artists. A beautiful, 500-seat outdoor amphitheater set into the banks of Chollas Creek adds another cultural component for performing arts.

The Plaza is funded by a unique public-private partnership that brought together public and private, non-profit and for-profit funding partners, including the largest NMTC loan in Southern California.

Early plans for the plaza included a community center and resident teams suggested naming it for Joe & Vi Jacobs as a tribute to their commitment to the community, their spirit of entrepreneurship, and their love for arts, culture and learning.

"We want to name this building for them so we don't forget them," said Ardelle Matthews, a long-time community resident and member of several Market Creek Plaza resident teams. "We can't forget them. They were the impetus for making Market Creek Plaza a bright spot on the corner of Market and Euclid. They asked us what we wanted, invited us to envision it and challenged us to build it. They've made us know we are partners together."

Children of Lebanese immigrants, Joe and Vi started a small business that grew into the $5 billion worldwide engineering company, Jacobs Engineering Group. In 1988, Joe, Vi, and their three daughters (San Diego's other philanthropic Jacobs family) created the foundation. Over time, their work evolved from micro-business development and non-profit support to a targeted focus on neighborhood strengthening by working directly with residents.

Joe Jacobs, who died last year at the age of 88, shared his passion for entrepreneurship and unwavering belief in community self-determination, resident ownership and asset development. The family is committed to pursuing a pioneering approach to private philanthropy, believing that granting money project-by-project and year-to-year rarely has a lasting impact. They are literally "betting the farm" that this approach will work by investing the foundations' assets in the work in the Diamond Neighborhoods.

JCNI works with residents through technical assistance and access to resources in such areas as strategic planning, organizational development, community outreach, commercial development, construction, leasing, financing, marketing and research.

To date, the foundations have provided more than $41 million in technical assistance, training, and program support in San Diego. JFF's $4.5 million investment in Market Creek Plaza leveraged another $19 million in resources for the community.

"Our role is to support residents in their efforts to strengthen their own neighborhoods," explained Jennifer Vanica, president and CEO of JCNI/JFF. "Our organization is committed to partnering with them, not doing for them, in an attempt to build a strong community foundation for future generations. Our successes so far have resulted from the involvement of resident teams and the development of processes and structures that encourage resident ownership of neighborhood change. All of this work is sustained as they take ownership of the plans, processes and assets in a spirit of positive community change and revitalization as Joe Jacobs had envisioned."

Barrett is a staff writer at Beck Ellman Heald agency.

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