Impact Investing – READI 2.0

I attended the introductory meeting on READI 2.0 presented by South Bend – Elkhart Regional Partnership (SEBERP) at the Rees Theater yesterday. Honestly, attendance was pretty poor, but there was some good information. READI 2.0 is a refined repeat of the original READI (1.0) program which was a refined repeat of the Regional Cities Initiative. In various forms, these programs have been designed to incentivize municipal and private investment in statewide goals. As with the past programs, READI 2.0 offers the carrot of up to 20% project investment matched by 20% local government investment and 60% private investment. Whether the entire 20% is granted depends on the quality of the project, its merit for meeting goals and its ranking among other submissions.

Sand Hill Farm Apartments

Sand Hill Farm Apartments was awarded Regional Cities Initiative (RCI) dollars. Those funds, though only 7% of the project cost, provided some incentive to move the project forward when Culver‘s first Stellar application was unsuccessful. The project was initially to be the LIHTC portion of Culver’s Stellar application. When that wasn’t successful, the RCI funds helped make the project viable as market rate housing. Moving this project forward has been noted as instrumental in Culver’s success with their second Stellar application. Unfortunately, Culver did not follow through on their commitment, so some of those funds never were disbursed by RCI and those that were got redirected to reimbursements in lieu of benefiting the project.

Water Street Townhomes

Culver Sand Hill Farm was awarded READI 1.0 dollars for Water Street Townhomes. This is a mixed use building with 11 two-bedroom townhouses, 2 one-bedroom apartments and a corner commercial space. We are still working with the City of Plymouth to create the structure to put those dollars to work. SEBERP awarded less than the initial request, but Plymouth is following through with their entire match in order to make this project possible.

Culver Sand Hill Farm also submitted a townhouse project for Culver, Spirit Townhomes, which was named in the READI 1.0 Strategic Investment Plan. Unfortunately, after the fact, Culver chose to partner with a different developer on the much larger and more controversial project, The Dunes. (Discussed here.) C’est la vie! Sometimes you reap what you sow.

SBERP will be putting in an application for READI 2.0 funds for our region after the first of the year. Yesterday’s meeting was one of several where they are soliciting input on what goals of the SEBERP region fit within the stated READI 2.0 goals. This will help them refine their application. They feel confident that their track record managing the Regional Cities Initiative and READI 1.0 funds put them in a good position to receive the maximum award from READI 2.0. The handout to the right was provided at the meeting, showing some of the impact these investments have had. $878 Million in project investment through those two programs, which is 9.5 times the investment from the State. (See the backside of the flyer here.)

There is a rural component to READI 2.0, directing that 25% should go to rural areas. Of the three counties in SBERP (St. Joseph, Elkhart and Marshall), only Marshall County is designated at rural. That doesn’t mean that Marshall County doesn’t have to have competitive projects, but it gives a 25% set-aside leg up. L:ast time, READI 1.0 projects were rewarded on population, which put Marshall County at a disadvantage.

One of the interesting changes in the program is the option for receiving a loan in lieu of a grant from the program. The funds could be loaned out at a reduced interest rate, with the funds paid back to SBERP for future reinvestment in the region. While the concept is a good one, the implementation appears to be flawed, from my perspective. As it currently stands, the loan would be capped at the same 20% level as the grants. While both a grant and a loan could be awarded, they cannot total more than 20% of the project. I will need to hear more about this, but my initial impression is that there is not much incentive to take the loan in lieu of the grant, but I may be missing nuances here. It would make some sense to see loan amounts allowed to be larger percentages since the money will be recirculated. Then there would be more incentive to take that option.

Roger Umbaugh

An interesting sidebar – not only did I sit with Linda Yoder, Executive Director of the Marshall County Community Foundation (MCCF), at the READI 2.0 meeting, I also followed that up with an MCCF meeting at her office to hear from MCCF’s financial advisor on impact investing options for the newly formed Roger Umbaugh Local Impact Investing fund. (More on this in a future post.)

Impact Investing seems to be a great way to influence desired outcomes. Great projects that are good for the community often flounder because the investor ROI isn’t there. If Impact Investing can influence that through grants, loans and other creative means, then it benefits everyone.

I don’t yet know if or how Easterday Construction Co., Inc. (ECC) or Culver Sand Hill Farm LLC (SHF) will participate in READI 2.0. The experience with READI 1.0 hasn’t been bad, but there have been a lot of strings attached to it after the award that weren’t factored into the original project. I’ve been approached about several projects that would fit under the READI 2.0 umbrella. I’ll continue to monitor this and continue to be part of the discussion. Whether ECC or SHF participate or not, it seems that it’s another great opportunity for Marshall County and Marshall County communities.

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