Buoyed by a $2.7 million federal grant, a former furniture warehouse in North Charleston will soon be upfitted as The Opportunity Center — a headquarters for local nonprofits, a business incubator and a career training facility all under one roof.
Three Charleston-area organizations have partnered to set up the facility: financial training center Increasing H.O.P.E., the Center for Heirs Property Preservation and the S.C. Association for Community Economic Development.
All three will move their offices to the property and be co-owners of the building, a venture which they hope will make their groups more financially sustainable.
“Economic development isn't just for for-profit institutions,” said Jennie L. Stephens, CEO of the Center for Heirs Property Preservation, a Charleston-based nonprofit that helps families and individuals protect their inherited land.
As part of its mission, the center operates a sustainable forestry program that encourages landowners to start their own forestry enterprises. Bringing the organization into a space where career training and business development guidance is available made sense, Stephens said.
By partially owning the building and sharing expenses like utilities, the nonprofits also saw the move as a chance to cut some costs and generate reliable revenue.
“It brings a level of stability knowing that our organizations will be able to serve the community in the future,” said Dorothea Bernique, the director at Increasing H.O.P.E.
The organization's name stands for "helping others prosper economically." The nonprofit has been providing financial education in North Charleston since 2003, currently out of an office on Remount Road.
The creation of the Opportunity Center is being funded through the U.S. Department of Commerce, specifically an Economic Development Administration program that provides assistance to “regions experiencing adverse economic changes.”
The funds were specifically designated for areas affected by natural disasters that occurred during 2017, including Hurricane Irma.
Though the federal grant funding was announced in May, the process leading up to the center’s creation started about five years ago. The idea was borne out of relationships that already existed between the three organizations and Homes of Hope, a Greenville-based Christian nonprofit that's serving as the developer for the project.
Homes of Hope purchased the Opportunity Center site — a now-empty warehouse at 8570 Rivers Ave. — for $2.1 million in late 2017, according to county land records.
The location was strategically chosen for several reasons. It's large enough to house multiple organizations and functions, and it's located in an area that has both demonstrated a need for business development and has seen some success at transitioning into a "business corridor," said Bernie Mazyzk, the CEO at the S.C. Association for Community Economic Development, or SCACED.
Renovations at the site will likely begin in early 2020, said Don Oglesby, the CEO at Homes of Hope. They hope to complete renovations and start moving into the facility by that fall.
Since the space used to be a warehouse, many of the improvements involve finding ways to let natural light into the building, Oglesby said. In the atrium of the facility, they plan to cut out a large skylight. Landscaping will clean up the exterior of the lot, and an all-new heating and air conditioning system will be installed.
In addition to office space for the three partnering nonprofits, the center will have space to house startups participating in a business incubator program led by Increasing H.O.P.E. Bernique said three startups will likely be housed at the center at one time.
Additional office space will be available for other businesses and organizations to rent.
A training room that will seat about 80 people will be used for programs offered by Increasing H.O.P.E. and will be available for other area businesses to use.
A variety of conference space and co-working space has also been worked into the plans, both for the organizations that will be housed there and for outside groups that need meeting space.
Having affordable and accessible places for groups to meet was one of the community needs they wanted to address with the Opportunity Center, Mazyzk said. Since his organization holds meetings and offers training all over the state, finding that space is often a challenge, he said.
Though securing federal funding was critical to moving the project forward, there will still be a gap between the expenses covered by federal money and the full cost of the project, so the nonprofits are seeking donors and investors who want to get involved.
Bernique said the groups are also interested in giving guidance to other nonprofits looking to use their center as a model. Having multiple organizations bring their headquarters into one facility can "multiply their impact," she said.
"All of our organizations are working to improve conditions for low income communities, communities of color and low resource communities," Mazyzk said. "No one organization can make a significant impact on its own."