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  • Writer's picturePandwe Gibson

6 Steps to Secure Public Property for Social Entrepreneurial Ventures

In 2005, my childhood home was decimated by Hurricane Katrina and it was that act that set my life’s trajectory. At the time I was a teacher, department head in the Pasadena Unified School District in Pasadena California, a PhD candidate, and believed, at 22 years of age, I had the answers to solve the education problems in New Orleans.

Katrina lead me to apply for the Harvard Master in School Leadership and Organization Scaling Program. It was there that I complete my Masters and PhD while designing my first start-up which opened in New Orleans in 2010; the Renew Charter Management Organization. The model was my thesis project design to rapidly scale a network of schools to insure maximum access for the school kids of New Orleans.

I partnered with the then Assistant Superintendent of School for the Recovery School District in New Orleans and together we pursued the development of the first Charter Management Organization (CMO) Louisiana. We opened six schools the first year, eleven the second and sixteen the third. In partnership with the school district, I learn that City and district often have surplus/depressed property on their tax role that put a strain their budget. They are often amenable to granting these properties to a foundation, not-for-profits or social entrepreneurial ventures who can provide a public good to their constitute base and absorb the maintenance and overhead of the property which range from 500K to several million inclusive of utilities and repairs.

How does it work?

Six easy steps.

1. Watch City Council or School Board meetings to monitor for any office expansions new building developments. If a city is building a new police station, the old police building may become available and if unoccupied, will be a drain on the city’s budget.

2. Meet with City Council or School Board member to propose new usage. They will want to provide for and to increase the public good, so when you meet with them understand their platform and support their visions for there community.

3. Develop an economic argument. Buildings range in size, but on the average, they can be expected to be 15,000 to 30,000 square foot in size. Operational overhead, maintenance, and utilities costs can range from $5,000 to $10,000 per month, so your plan to put the building to a new use will need to include a way to pay these costs and to end any costs that would otherwise by paid for by the City or School district.

4. Be patience. When I did this in New Orleans through the School District, it took a year to gain get approvals and then 3 months to get possession. The development of incubator facilities for small businesses by Neighbors and Neighborhood Association (NANA) in the Liberty City community at Miami, Florida took almost 4 years of planning and approvals before they gained possession. The police station in Miami Gardens that was to become an EcoTech Visions business incubator took 1 year for approvals and 2.5 years before EcoTech Visions secure the possession of the building. While the 30-year lease as was approved in 2015, the facility was not made available to EcoTech Visions until 2017 because the City required the continued use by the police department as it transitioned out of the facility. Governmental approvals take time. The different cities and school districts all have different processes and procedures to follow.

5. Have a proven track record. Governmental officials will not give to novice, so you must have had and successfully ran the operations you are planning before. Results matter.

6. Take time negotiating the contract. Most contracts are leases for 20 to 30 years, but there could be terms of success tied to the agreement or additional funding requirements such as revenue sharing. All agreements I have negotiated had these types of clauses and they are negotiated regularly just like a traditional lease.

This model is not be for everyone. It is, after all, not much cheaper than leasing a commercial space when you account for the time, utilities, repairs, maintenance, operational costs, and revenue share components. This kind of transaction is only for public good organization. If you know there are depressed and often blighted properties in your city that are draining the City budget and you have the capacity to put it to a good use and to renovate it, then I encourage you to improve community conditions and to help your city out.

Don’t lease something shiny and new when you can create a win-win situation for the local government and residents. After all, you are part of the community and though it might be more work in the end, community beautification pays dividends beyond your singular mission.

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