Walk the streets of Louisville’s Russell neighborhood in years past and you’d notice a few things missing.
Critical services and resources were difficult to find. Fresh, nutritious food was in short supply. Hope was hard to come by.
That is until leaders like the Rev. Dr. Jamesetta Ferguson decided to make a change.
“We learned that there are $85 million going outside the community because residents had to go outside the community to do their shopping,” says Ferguson, senior pastor at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ.
For the past 170 years, St. Peter’s has been an integral part of Russell, a neighborhood centered just west of downtown Louisville in one of the poorest zip codes in the United States. And time was beginning to take its toll on the church’s historic building.
“We have a lot of environmental challenges,” Ferguson says. “Because we were having those issues and really not having the financial resources to do the repairs, we needed help.”
St. Peter’s called on the Church Building & Loan Fund to imagine a brighter future for the church and its surrounding community.
“They came and looked at the property and our ministry and mission and said let us see how we can help you,” Ferguson says.
CB&LF decided the church would be a perfect fit for Partners in Vision, a program that offers planning and technical assistance to churches on major building projects. The program is ideal for churches that are struggling financially and interested in the productive reuse of their property. Through the program, CB&LF leaders and industry professionals develop a plan based on a church’s specific area of need.
For St. Peter’s, that meant developing a growth strategy in which the church could leverage its biggest asset – a large vacant lot next to its building.
Through its work with CB&LF, St. Peter’s imagined a new use of the space with the power to transform Russell. The dream? A 30,000 square-foot structure designed to strengthen the neighborhood, including several nonprofit ventures. A vital hub for community services. A beacon of hope for Russell residents.
That dream is now a reality.
Built on the church’s adjacent lot, the new mixed-use development, Village at West Jefferson, is now leasing (first floor) retail space and (second floor) office & commercial space to businesses and organizations that serve the needs of Russell community residents. Rental income from the development will help fund the restoration of St. Peter’s historic building as well as ongoing church ministries.
“Part of the vision included using the land for the mutual benefit of St. Peter’s Church and local community resident,” Ferguson says.
The building, financed by CB&LF and other sources, is being developed by the MOLO Village Community Development Corporation which was established by Pastor Ferguson in 2011 as an extension of the church. MOLO will also take up shop in the space once construction is complete.
Tenants are already lining up to sign leases for space in the new building.
“We’re recruiting tenants that offer healthy and positive amenities that will create new economic activity in the community,” Ferguson says. Construction alone will add 125 much-needed jobs, she adds.
CB&LF even connected St. Peter’s with a credit-building nonprofit to help residents build their credit scores and enroll in financial literacy workshops in the new space.
“This will bring hope into a community that often has not benefitted from economic investment in the local economy,” Ferguson says.
St. Peter’s is now a key part of the area’s widespread revitalization efforts, helping to develop a master plan for the neighborhood.
“All of this is a result of the Church Building & Loan Fund being willing to take a risk and seeing the potential in doing something that may be a model to be used throughout the U.S. in other urban churches that are struggling with some of the same issues,” Ferguson says. “They have helped in all different aspects, not only helping us determine what type of building to build, the viability of the project, but they’ve also been there to help us shape the mission of MOLO and doing all of the research to help us know how to move forward.”
Most importantly, Ferguson says, is the church’s ability to expand its reach.
“This gives the church the financial capability to help more people,” she says.