by Paula M. Riley
“Collaboration.” That’s the word Chestnut Hill leaders are using to describe how they work together. This collaboration has resulted in successful event programming, stronger marketing efforts, new businesses and the sharing of resources across Chestnut Hill organizations.
Recently this collaboration has paid off in the form of an $850,000 corporate grant that will seed a brand- new organization: the Chestnut Hill Community Development Corporation.
The money comes from a law that allows any corporation doing business with the city to redirect up to $85,000 a year of its business taxes to a CDC for 10 years. Chestnut Hill Hospital was happy to serve as a partner to fund the endeavor.
“Four years ago, serving as president of Chestnut Hill Business Association, I questioned why we weren’t applying for that partnership,” said Greg Welsh, co-owner of the Chestnut Grill & Sidewalk Café. “Brooks Turkel (former CEO of Chestnut Hill Hospital) jumped right in and was happy to join in that partnership and we began.”
Dr. John D. Cacciamani, current CEO of the Hospital, sits on the boards of both the Chestnut Hill Community Association and the CHBA. He wholeheartedly supports the partnership.
“So much of what the hospital is doing is just like that of the (Chestnut Hill) businesses,” Cacciamani said. “We have the same struggles. We are all working together. If we (the hospital) have an opportunity to provide tax, we will do it. We are all in this together.”
It wasn’t as simple as getting a partner; Welsh had to establish a Chestnut Hill CDC with federal approval. Welsh and Kate O’Neill, deputy director of the CHBA, wrote a lengthy proposal. It was accepted and the Chestnut Hill CDC (CHCDC) was, established – a 501(c)(3) organization that was eligible to partner with Chestnut Hill Hospital and apply for the business tax program.
When unanimously authorized in 2002 by City Council, there were only 15 slots for CDCs to receive the tax benefit. Each year, the program has expanded, and currently there are 42 CDCs throughout the city.
“We are excited to see CH take part in this program to promote the economy,” said Cindy Bass, City Councilwoman for the 8th District, of which Chestnut Hill is a part.
The program’s impact has been profound, as CDCs have been able to leverage millions of private dollars into community investment.
Applicants were entered into a lottery system and names are selected from a hat. After numerous selection rounds, the Chestnut Hill CDC was finally drawn.
A board of directors governs the CDC and it will determine the best use of the money. The bylaws are not yet written, but currently Welsh chairs the board with presidents and vice presidents of the Chestnut Hill Business Improvement District (CHBID), CHBA and the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation (CHPF), each of whom have voting positions. Additional board participation is from the Chestnut Hill Hospital, the Chestnut Hill Community Association, Chestnut Hill College, Woodmere Art Museum, Morris Arboretum, Chestnut Hill Historical Society and the Garden District.
Although no decisions have been made regarding how the funds will be spent, Welsh expects that in this first year they will be used to help hire a new executive director for the CHBA, CHBID, and CHPF. Funds will also be used for marketing and public relations efforts. Overseen by the city’s departments of Commerce and Revenue, the money must be specifically allocated for the economic corridor.
“The whole purpose of the CDC is to foster economic and business development initiatives,” Welsh said. “We want to attract new business, expand access to good and services, create jobs and increase the city tax base.”
Beyond the financial benefits, Welsh and O’Neill envision that the CDC will help create an all-inclusive entity for CHBA, CHBID, and the CHPF to pool resources to promote economic development.
Cacciamani believes more collaboration will benefit everyone.
“There is a general consensus among employers and businesses in this Chestnut Hill – we all think there is more opportunity in our community,” Cacciamani said. “We are all working hard to bring the highest quality possible to Chestnut Hill – best clinical academia from Center City, the best art, bakery, flowers – so that you don’t have to go anywhere else. That’s what this is all about.”
O’Neill shares his sentiments and is excited to witness the impact of the CDCs over the next decade but wants to make sure to give credit where due.
“Greg’s tenacity was a major factor,” O’Neill said. “if he hadn’t kept his eye on the ball, this wouldn’t happened. We also needed the hospital. They are such a good community player. They said ‘yes’ immediately,”
Welsh expects a decision for the initial funds to be determined in the next few months.