Rock Island’s efforts to rebuild the New Old Chicago neighborhood “block by block” got a repeat financial boost Friday from Wells Fargo.
For the second year in a row, Wells Fargo granted Rock Island Economic Growth Corp., or GROWTH, donation through the company’s Leading the Way Home program. Standing outside a block of five new homes built, in part, with Wells Fargo’s donation last year, bank representatives presented GROWTH leaders with a $100,000 donation. The company awarded the nonprofit $75,000 in 2011.
John Stavnes, president of Wells Fargo in the Quad-Cities, said the “fiercely competitive” grants, which are distributed nationwide, were created “to stabilize and rebuild local communities, like the New Old Chicago neighborhood.”
He said for GROWTH to land a second grant through the Leading the Way Home Priority Markets Initiative is very rare. “But Rock Island Economic Growth Corporation brought forward a story, and a case, that it was easy for us to say ‘let’s invest more.’ ”
Nationwide, Wells Fargo distributed $6 million across 59 nonprofits through its 2012 program. Since 2009, it has provided more than $18 million to more than 75 communities.
Brian Hollenback, president of Renaissance Rock Island, which is the parent organization of GROWTH, said the donation “demonstrates the local commitment we have from our lending partners.”
“It goes far beyond the dollars and cents, they have committed their time out here … ,” he said, recognizing the teams of Wells Fargo employees who volunteered their time in the summer heat to help build and landscape the five homes built in a one-block radius. Located in the 600 block of 10th Street, one of the five homes has been sold and is occupied while the other four are for sale. GROWTH is hosting an open house from 1-3 p.m. Sunday for potential homebuyers to visit the properties.
Hollenback said the latest donation will help kick-start the second and third phases of the New Old Chicago Redevelopment Plan, although the specifics have yet to be decided. “This will be one of the funding sources,” he said, adding that GROWTH plans to demolishing abandoned homes, acquiring properties, building new housing and rehabbing existing homes as part of its stabilization program. The nonprofit has identified the now vacant lots along 10th Street as the site of more for new construction.
Daryl Empen, chairman of GROWTH’s board, told supporters at Friday’s presentation that the neighborhood’s rebirth is due to GROWTH’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which has built new construction and rehabbed existing properties throughout central and west Rock Island. “We can’t do one house at a time; we’ve got to do block by block.”
Empen, who also is the president of Gas and Electric Credit Union, said the $100,000 donation will be seed money for more infill housing and “will be a big help as we continue our neighborhood stabilization efforts.”
Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley also thanked Wells Fargo for its ongoing support. “They have hundreds and hundreds of communities they could make an investment in and to come back here two years in a row that’s just wonderful.”
Pauley predicted that anouther 15 to 20 new homes could be built in the neighborhood, which has seen more than $13 million investment in recent years. Among the investments in the past six years has been GROWTH’s new housing, the expansion of Martin Luther King Community center, the creation of Douglas Park Place, Habitat Park’s new housing, and the city’s plans for a future Marting Luther King Community Park, which will be across the street from the new houses.