By Todd Cohen
SANFORD, N.C. — With the opening of the W.B. Wicker Business Campus just southwest of downtown Sanford, Brick Capital Community Development Corp. has reached a big milestone.
The 16-year old nonprofit has developed the 29,000-square-foot former W.B. Wicker School as part of a long-term effort to revive a traditionally African-American neighborhood that had deteriorated after some houses were razed in the 1960s and the lots remained vacant.
Brick Capital has invested nearly $6 million to develop nearly 40 houses in the neighborhood, plus 12 apartment units of supportive housing for victims of domestic violence and people who are mentally ill.
The business campus, a $6.1 million project, will include a range of programs and businesses that aim to serve the neighborhood and attract clients and customers from throughout the county, says Kate Rumely, executive director of Brick Capital.
Now, the community-development corporation plans to develop 50 new houses in the neighborhood, plus commercial space that likely would include a grocery store, she says.
Brick Capital also plans to develop a park, including a new walking trail and playground equipment, in front of the business campus, renovate an auditorium behind the former school, and develop recreational facilities on 9.5 acres it owns adjacent to the campus site.
Facilities could include a soccer field and would be developed in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sanford/Lee County.
The alumni association for the W.B. Wicker School, built in the 1920s as part of a network of schools for African Americans in the South funded by former Sears executive Julius Rosenwald, has launched a capital campaign to raise $2 million to renovate the auditorium.
The auditorium will be used for concerts, performances and other community events, Rumely says.
For the new housing, Brick Capital has received, as a gift from the city of Sanford, 16 acres on Washington Avenue across the street from Horton Park, and has purchased an adjacent site totaling 11 acres.
Before construction can begin on the housing, which likely will be developed on both sites, Brick Capital will need to secure funding to have the land surveyed, build streets and roads, and carry out other changes to the site, Rumely says.
Part of the site Brick Capital purchased will need to be rezoned for commercial use, she says, and local residents will be invited to help plan the new development.
In addition to a grocery store, which would be the first in the neighborhood, the development likely will include open spaces, school-bus stops, and places for children to play, Rumely says.
The new two-story Business Campus, a building that has been vacant since the school was abandoned in the 1980s, includes a children’s dental center operated by Lee County; a dental hygiene program operated by Central Carolina Community College; behaviorial services for children and families provided by Excel Tutoring and Personnel Development under contract with the regional agency responsible for mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services; Academic Child Care Enrichment Center; and a community computer center, with 12 computer stations, that will be operated by Brick Capital.
Starting in January, the facility also will house a business incubator for 10 tenants in space currently leased by the National Health Survey of the Centers for Disease Control.
Funding for the new business campus, which is owned by BCCDC-Wicker LLC, includes $1.1 million in federal funds provided by the state division of community assistance through the City of Sanford; a $2.5 million loan from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta through the Durham-based Self-Help Credit Union; $1.7 million through tax credits provided to Bank of America from the National Trust for Historic Preservation; $200,000 from Lee County; and $600,000 in equity investment from Brick Capital.
Rumely says the new housing and new business campus have generated an increase in home-ownership in the neighborhood, an influx of Latino residents, and an increase in visitors from outside the neighborhood.
“People want to live there,” she says. “Now they have this vibrant school that has people coming and going from it at all times of the day.”