February 23, 2022
Ujima Developers, LLC is a Black-owned, community-centered, holistic, equitable real estate development company. Established by award-winning community-based-researcher, social entrepreneur and transformational leader, Dr. Leon D. Caldwell, Ujima Developers envisions developing thriving multigenerational neighborhoods sustained by real estate investments that promote economic mobility and health/wellness strategies. The company’s work has been featured in Bisnow, The Baltimore Business Journal, and WHYY’s PlanPhilly, to name a few.
Thrive Village PHL, LLC is a holistic, equitable neighborhood transformation development project by Ujima Developers. A part of the Thrive Village PHL project includes acquiring and renovating a mixed-use 16,352 SF property at the intersection of 40th and W Girard in East Parkside. It will include nine affordable residential units, 4,000 SF commercial space for Thrive Medical, a black-owned physician’s group providing occupational medicine, physical therapy, restorative health practices, and 5,000 SF of additional exterior space for outdoor healthy food retail selected by community partners.
PIDC is supporting this project through real estate financing, including a bridge loan to bridge a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant and an Impact Development Fund loan which provides new capital for neighborhood-based development. The Reinvestment Fund, Fels Foundation, Barra Foundation, Valentine Foundation, The Seybert Foundation, The Merchants Fund, and Community Transformation Partners are also all involved in making Thrive Village PHL possible.
PIDC interviewed Dr. Caldwell on his upcoming projects and the intended community impact. Here’s what he had to say.
Q: What drew you to the mixed-use property on the corner of 40th and W Girard in East Parkside?
A: It’s home. I grew up in this neighborhood, so it has a special place in my heart. Also, this corner is a gateway to Fairmont Park, University City, Mantua, Center City and City Line Avenue. The community wanted to see this important corner used for something that would improve their quality of life, not another chain fast food drive thru or retail that had no benefit to their experience of the neighborhood.
Q: Can you tell us more about your plans for this property, in a nutshell?
A: Yes! We’re very excited about this project and what it will bring to the neighborhood.
We’re developing a food as medicine and health/wellbeing destination that features access to healthy foods with curated healthy food retail/trucks and space for a farmer’s market and another community gathering space. Anchor tenant, Thrive Medical, will provide access to occupational therapy, occupational medicine and restorative health practices. In addition, in partnership with [nonprofit organization] Community Transformation Partners, Thrive Café will use some of the commercial space to operate a community co-op café as a community gathering space. We are designing the “Porch” as an outdoor eating space for the healthy food retail court. For those of us who grew up in Philly, the porches, or steps, are important areas to how we experience neighborhoods and build communities. The Porch will be an outdoor community gathering space, named after my mother’s porch, right here in West Philadelphia where my family, friends, and I still come together and laugh, catch up, and create memories. In addition, the property has nine affordable apartments.
Q: When do you expect its completion?
A: We anticipate Thrive Village PHL will be complete in summer of 2022!
Q: How did you get connected to PIDC for assistance with developing the property in East Parkside?
A: We sought a relationship with PIDC as a partner that started with attending a real estate financing workshop facilitated by Sarah Stroney in 2018. I attended several workshops and conversations about how PIDC could better serve small developers. [PIDC’s] financing products were favorable to small developers who are interested in impact.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Living the concept to Ujima (Swahili work that translate as collective work and responsibility). Co-designing a vision with the community, gathering the resources and then watching it all come together is extremely rewarding. Being able to integrate my academic and professional backgrounds with a passion for redesigning Black neighborhoods with existing residents into places where we all have an opportunity to thrive. Contributing a vision for neighborhood transformation that is an alternative to gentrification is very rewarding.
Q: Lastly, what’s next for Ujima Developers and Thrive Village PHL?
A: Some of our upcoming goals are to fund the STEAMIE Workspace – a STEM career makerspace, and Ujima Age-Friendly Village – a 28-unit affordable multi-generational condominium project. We’re doing some exciting things to enhance and sustain the quality of life in this neighborhood!
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