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Syracuse-based developer seeks equity for project financing

This rendering from Syracuse-based firm in-ARCHITECTS shows part of the proposed $30 million Southside Renaissance project.
This rendering from Syracuse-based firm in-ARCHITECTS shows part of the proposed $30 million Southside Renaissance project.

A Syracuse-based former tax and business attorney turned non-profit developer wants to ensure there’s equity when it comes to meeting the needs of the city’s south side, where she grew up. Charlene Tarver is President and CEO of the Women’s Economic Institute, and has proposed a $30 million micro-community that she says will address the food, medical, retail, and housing needs of a neighborhood near South Ave. She says poverty seemed more contained when she was growing up, and now it seems more widespread since she recently returned.

“The city has changed and grown in so many areas," Tarver said. "However, there is this pervasive poverty that exists within certain ZIP codes. And so one would question why has there been growth in these areas but not in this area?”

Indeed, about a mile north of her proposed development, JMA Wireless built a factory and headquarters, and next door, the Syracuse Community Health Center recently opened its new campus. But she says securing funds for her Southside Renaissance project is proving very challenging in the two years since she first proposed it. Tarver, who is African American, says there needs to be a commitment to developers of color.

“Much of those dollars that are a part of the pre-development phase of a project or dollars that are either coming from generational wealth that existed, that we have not participated in and or they're coming from access to capital," Tarver said. "Oftentimes what we see with small businesses and small businesses of color is that they don't have access to capital and they don't have the generational wealth.”

For example, Tarver says for-profit developers seem to able to receive grants, while non-profits like hers can only manage to secure loans, which need to be paid back. Plus, she says some developers don’t always understand a community’s needs or have their best interest in mind.

“They may have a particular agenda for housing that doesn't necessarily meet the needs of that community," Tarver said. "When we look at the south side of the city, while there's a huge need for housing, there's also a huge need for economic stabilization. Individuals who come from the communities who are then able, with the support of the city, to develop in their own communities have a better sense of what it takes to build that community.”

Tarver says that includes someone like herself, who knows the needs of the neighborhood, can bring together stakeholders, and can identify and pursue funding sources. You can hear a full interview with Charlene Tarver on our latest Syracuse Speaks episode.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at