The veteran executive of the world of non-profits said it was “the biggest ask ever” in her 20 years in the field.
Aina Gutierrez, director of the Rebuilding Exchange, asked the city’s Economic Development Committee on Wednesday night to endorse a $2 million grant, so the agency could buy a warehouse at 626 Hartrey Ave.
The new space would let Rebuilding Exchange significantly expand its job training program for construction trades, which currently graduates about 80 people per year into living wage positions.
“Our vision,” Gutierrez said, “is to get more people out of poverty.”
Rebuilding Exchange, a non-profit, currently has a much smaller building, also on Hartrey, where it sells reclaimed building materials and holds job training classes.
But while everyone on the committee, which includes five members of City Council, said the job training program is terrific, there was concern that $2 million would eat up too much of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds, making it harder to do other projects.
Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) said she was “uncomfortable with the price tag.”
Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), the EDC chair, said, “I’m looking for a way to get to yes, but I’m stumbling on the magnitude of the ask.”
In the end, the committee recommended up to $1.2 million to help Rebuilding Exchange acquire the building. The organization would then have to raise more private or foundation money to fill in the gap.
It’s unclear if any conditions will be attached to the city’s grant. Ald. Devon Reid (8th) suggested having the city buy the building, then work out some sort of lease-to-own plan with the Exchange. That way, Reid said, the city might end up making some money.
The issue goes to City Council next month, and it appears Council will approve some level of support. Five of the nine council members are on the Economic Development Committee, and they all voted yes.
A smaller ‘big ask’
There was actually another “big ask” on the economic panel’s agenda, although not as big as the other one.
And this smaller big ask was recommended for full Council’s approval.
In this case, the development committee agreed with a $650,000 request from Soul & Smoke Restaurant, 1601 Payne St., to expand their building from a take-out facility into a full-scale, sit-down restaurant.
The phrase “big ask” was used by a restaurant representative.
But this big ask comes with a potentially big repayment to the city’s coffers.
The restaurant representative said expansion could add $250,000 a year in sales taxes, as well as more employees.
Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager, said, “We make the assumption that the project won’t move forward without this investment.”
Unlike the Rebuilding Exchange, money for Soul & Smoke does not come from ARPA dollars, but rather from the tax increment financing district that includes the restaurant site.
The Soul & Smoke recommendation also goes to City Council for a final vote.