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LISC Practitioners Food Access Q&A

We asked LISC practitioners Schirra Hayes and Sonja Dean about their experience funding the Church Hill Grocery Store in Richmond and the People’s Food Coop in Kalamazoo, respectively. As both projects were established in neighborhoods where additional options for healthy and affordable food were needed, Schirra and Sonja worked closely with community partners on these projects.  

Read the Q&A to learn more about how Schirra and Sonja’s got these deals done, as well as the impact that Church Hill Grocery Store and People’s Food Coop had on the surrounding community. 

Q&A with Schirra Hayes on the Church Hill Grocery Store in Richmond


Did the community outreach you did and your analysis of the neighborhood impact your decision on what to include as part of the mixed-use facility, and  were there any specific pieces of the project that were prioritized for community impact?  

Yes, we wanted to ensure the project created jobs for the people that live in the community, created access to healthy food and healthy life style options and that any housing associated with the project included some level of affordability as well as provided other neighborhood retail choices. The anchor of the project is the grocery store. The neighborhood is located in a food desert and the community has desired a full service grocery store for over a decade. The culinary school and additional retail spaces were huge bonuses, and will allow the space to be used for educational opportunities for neighborhood residents interested in the culinary arts or food safety and provide additional employment opportunities. 

What level of community involvement existed throughout the process? 

The community and neighborhood were engaged throughout the entire process. The developer conducted regular input sessions over many months, which included Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, city council members, civic organizations, The Bon Secours Community Hospital Foundation, MCV/VCU Health Systems and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority - all of whom are community stakeholders.  

In addition to input regarding the development itself, the local East End Branch Library held information sessions on employment opportunities available at the grocery store, construction jobs associated with the project, and contracting opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses. The community college also holds community outreach sessions for workforce development and training and offers educational and career paths opportunities.  

In addition to the economic boost to the neighborhood, community engagement, inclusion and equity were a major focus of the entire project.  

Can you talk about the staff time needed for this type of mixed-use center (including a grocery store, culinary school, a restaurant and other commercial space), and whether you had to identify different funding streams for the different components of the project?   

The developer, Steve Markel, is a noted community corporate leader and philanthropist.  Markel is the Vice Chairman for the Markel Corporation (NYSE – MKL), a holding company for insurance, reinsurance, and investment operations around the world, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. The local staff we focused on getting this private developer comfortable with using the NMTC  structure as a financing vehicle and coordinating the information flow with our New Market Support Corporation colleagues 

As this is still in development stages, what should practitioners consider before deciding to take a project like this on? 

The Church Hill neighborhood has suffered from disinvestment for many years. Like a lot of urban inner city neighborhoods, Church Hill has high rates of poverty, unemployment, crime, poor health outcomes and boasts 70% of Richmond’s obsolete public housing stock. Years of federal discriminatory housing policy and neglect left the area void of investment or appeal. This project could not have been completed without the involvement of an experienced developer with a charitable mission to give back to the people of Richmond. 

Q&A Part II

Continue reading the Q&A to learn more about the People's Food Coop in Kalamazoo with practitioner, Sonja Dean. 

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