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Corporate funding plants seeds for Grove Park revival

By Amy Wenk and Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on April 27, 2018

A major revitalization of Grove Park, a neglected neighborhood on Atlanta’s Westside, has attracted the attention of the city’s corporate community.

Bank of America is donating $1 million to the Grove Park Foundation, kicking off a $16 million campaign to help fund a new K-8 school, Woodson Park Academy, to anchor the community.

Grove Park

Wendy Stewart and Debra Edelson at the Grove Park offices (Photo by Maria Saporta)

It’s part of a much broader plan to address economic issues in Grove Park, a former utopian neighborhood that fell on hard times.

Grove Park sits along Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, just west of the Bankhead MARTA station. It also borders the city’s largest planned park, the Westside Park at Bellwood Quarry, making it an area vulnerable to gentrification.

“We have an obligation — a moral and an economic obligation — to get involved in this work,” said Wendy Stewart, Atlanta market president for Bank of America and board member of the Grove Park Foundation. “I want to live in a city where everyone has the opportunity to live to their full potential and where the entire city is thriving.”

Grove Park once was a vibrant, middle-class neighborhood. It was named for pharmaceutical magnate Edwin Wiley Grove, who developed the community in the 1920s and 1930s, along with the Grove Park Inn in North Carolina.

But its economy crumbled over the years with the closure of Atlanta Housing Authority developments, the Great Recession and rampant mortgage fraud.

Today, the poverty rate in Grove Park is more than 40 percent. About 15 percent of its residents are unemployed. Its schools are failing. And it lacks grocery stores, pharmacies and banks.

“We wanted to get involved with a community where we could make an impact from struggling to thriving,” Stewart said, adding Bank of America was also the first corporate sponsor for a similar revitalization effort in Atlanta’s East Lake neighborhood 20 years ago.

“We are really passionate about economic mobility,” she said. “In essence, your ZIP code really determines your outlook in life. That doesn’t sound much like the American Dream. We want more for Atlanta.”e

Fundraising is underway for Woodson Park Academy.

Grove Park

Debra Edelson and Wendy Stewart in Grove Park (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Atlanta’s intown real estate boom now is placing pressure on Grove Park’s existing homeowners, many of whom are senior citizens.

“We are absolutely committed to serving the people who live in this community,” said Debra Edelson, executive director of the Grove Park Foundation, a nonprofit that grew out of the Emerald Corridor Foundation. Edelson came to Grove Park to help restore polluted waterway Proctor Creek. But soon, it became clear there were many more needs.

Grove Park Foundation now serves as the “community quarterback,” with projects focused on improving education, increasing affordable housing, and boosting community wellness.

Last fall, Atlanta-based Purpose Built Communities announced it would partner with Grove Park Foundation and try to replicate the East Lake model. Joining the Purpose Built network is a huge boost for the foundation’s efforts.

Now, Grove Park Foundation is partnering with Atlanta Public Schools to quickly finance and build the $34 million Woodson Park Academy that will serve 850 students. Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) will staff and manage the school. It’s set to break ground in early 2019, with the goal of opening for the 2020-2021 school year.

The school will be part of a larger $53 million campus that will also include a new health clinic and YMCA with an early learning center. The project, located along Donald Lee Hollowell, Francis Place and Grove Park, is a new model aimed at lifting up kids and their families through quality community services.

Grove Park

Grove Park (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“Intergenerational poverty in Atlanta is very real,” said Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. “What I’ve learned in trying to turn around the school system is for us to really help kids, we have to help the whole family.”

Among its other efforts, the Grove Park Foundation has assembled land for a 110-unit affordable housing project in partnership with Columbia Residential.

And, the foundation has acquired the historic Grove Theater and plans to renovate the property and bring in new arts programming. Its partners on that project include the Fox Theatre Institute.

Other efforts include a community health survey, financial education courses, and home repair assistance.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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