Economic Development, Lakeshore, and Nonprofits

Church nonprofit plans for sustainable community center in Muskegon

December 27, 2013
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Muskegon City Center
The facility could provide space for nonprofits Love Inc., The Hope Project, Prison Fellowship and Partners Worldwide, in addition to a for-profit grocery store. Courtesy Bridge to Communities

A new sustainability model that would anchor a for-profit generator in a nonprofit community center is being planned for downtown Muskegon. 

It’s a new idea from Bridge to Communities, a nonprofit created by members of Bridge Bible Church, a Muskegon-based non-denominational church, said Steve Adams, BTC board chairman.

Bridge to Communities, which received its 501(c)3 status in February, was the brainchild of a number of church members who had been talking for years about wanting to make a positive economic development for the community, Adams said, including a long-term strategy to address generational poverty and urban decay.

They decided to start BTC as a nonprofit that’s sole purpose would be economic development, he said, using the form of a nonprofit to distinguish itself from the church for legal reasons, as well as to be sensitive to those who would want to help but might not want to affiliate with a faith group.

“We want to include a broader base of people. Some people may or may not be comfortable giving with a church organization,” he said. “We also didn’t want to endanger the church’s tax-exempt status by operating a successful business. … People from our church are on the board, but there’s also people who aren’t from our church on the board.”

BTC’s plan is to renovate the 38,000-square-foot former Matson Oldsmobile dealership property at 1144 Third St., turning it into a community center that would be financially sustained by a for-profit, full-service grocery store engine called City Market, which would share the space, Adams said. 

City Market, which would operate on a warehouse-membership model similar to Costco, would employ about 30 people — about seven of whom would be full-time. It would occupy 20,000 square feet while 6,000 square feet would be used for a thrift shop and the remaining 12,000 square feet space would be for classrooms and community activities. A low-cost health clinic might be added later, he said.

Adams said BTC needs $2 million to purchase, renovate and build out the location. BTC has an option to purchase the building for $235,000, which it has until September 2014 to do, he said. BTC plans to complete that purchase by the end of March and open the store in September.

Practically everyone BTC talked to in Muskegon loved the plan, Adams said.

“The thing that’s important to note is we’ve spent about a year talking to people in the city — pastors, officials, community members. … It’s been a resounding ‘yes’ at every level,” he said.

BTC has already partnered with the following groups to operate in the Community Center, according to a release: 

  • Love Inc., a training resource for family-strengthening and skills-building services;
  • The Hope Project, a human-trafficking awareness nonprofit that sells donated clothing and household items, with plans to include fair trade products;
  • Prison Fellowship, an organization bringing an innovative new model for prisoner re-entry;
  • Partners Worldwide, a proven entrepreneurship-training program for creating and expanding sustainable local businesses. BTC will be a local business affiliate. This training will be matched with BTC’s micro-loan fund to spur new businesses in the city. 

Additionally, Bridge to Communities is working to secure a growing list of partners for health
and financial management services, children’s literacy, youth employment and mentoring.

If the plan is successful and BTC can pull off the model of a philanthropic-minded church using a nonprofit to develop a community center sustained by a for-profit retail store, the plan could become national, Adams said.

“One of the goals we have is to prove this out and then make it available for other cities,” he said. “If we create something that works, that’s the franchise model. That could be a way to help perpetuate and sustain the one in West Michigan and help create others.” 

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