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Nonprofits struggling to find real estate share space, services

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Dorothea Bernique, executive director of Increasing H.O.P.E., talks with North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey at the groundbreaking for the Opportunity Center. (Photo by Reggie Murphy/TMI Productions)With the area’s rising real estate prices, nonprofits often struggle to find affordable office space.

To save money on daily expenses, four organizations are joining forces to transform a wholesale furniture warehouse in North Charleston into the Opportunity Center.

The four nonprofits include: Homes for Hope based out of Greenville and the Lowcountry’s South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development, Center for Hiers Property and Increasing H.O.P.E. Financial Training Center.

The building will house new headquarters for all but Homes for Hope, the first Small Business Association Women’s Business Center to serve the tri-county and an entrepreneurial incubator to create an entrepreneurial eco system for the low-income community. Additional market value office spaces will be available to rent as well.

Upon completion at the end of the year, all four organizations will become equal owners of the building at 8570 Rivers Ave., aligning their offices and their similar missions to support the minority and low-wealth community. 

“I’m excited about us being an example of what true collaboration looks like,” Dorothea Bernique, Executive Director of Increasing H.O.P.E., said. “Many times in the nonprofit community we talk about it, but there’s never a whole lot of follow through, and we are an example.”

The idea for the Opportunity Center came about six years ago, SCACED CEO Bernie Mazyck said. Every few years his organization has been forced to relocate its headquarters because of a lack of affordability and once again they were scrambling to find a new office. 

Board member Don Ogelsby took an interest. He wanted to use his development expertise to solve the issue and help nonprofits in similar situations become more sustainable through owning their own corporate headquarters. 

This shows a rendering of the building, which will be co-owned by four S.C.-based nonprofits. (Provided)“I was on a panel once years ago and talked about how ironic it was that nonprofits constantly taught their clients to grow assets in order for them to move out of poverty, yet many nonprofits still rented their office space for their corporate headquarters,” Ogelsby said.

He’s seen the struggle firsthand as president and CEO of Homes for Hope, which collaborates with the building industry to construct homes and sell homes in the Upstate as a means to break cyclical poverty. Since 1998, the nonprofit has generated more than $21 million in revenue to loan out and is currently expanding operations into the Midlands and Lowcountry. “As we thought of the concept of a permanent headquarters, we thought of a number of nonprofits, especially in the Charleston area, who are constantly challenged in finding affordable space,” Mazyck said.

He and Ogelsby approached a number of organizations, but not everyone was interested. The final four, however, were familiar with one another as members in the S.C. Association of Community Economic Development and found a commonality in their services.

Center for Heirs Property Preservation helps families protect and build generational wealth, while Increasing H.O.P.E. provides financial training educational opportunities for the local community. 

With three headquarters and other services, the shared building needed an accessible location and extensive square footage. After several searches on Azalea Road, the Peninsula and empty schools, they landed on Rivers Avenue. 

The location was convenient and centrally located. It also had a high traffic count and was accessible for the clientele the groups were hoping to engage. 

The area has nothing else like the Opportunity Center, Bernique said.

“I describe it as a one-stop shop where resources will be so that people aren’t running all over town trying to figure out who’s doing what,” she said. “They can come into one place, receive services from beginning to end… And if we don’t have those resources, we have the relationship in the community to refer them out.”

Shared ownership

Part of the draw to the Rivers Avenue location was its high traffic count and accessibility to the community that nonprofits want to engage with. (Photo/Teri Errico Griffis)While Homes for Hope currently is the sole owner of the building, once renovations are complete, ownership will be transferred among the other three organizations in a newly formed “single purpose” nonprofit called Opportunity Center. All four will then share equally in the ownership of the property.

“It was never our intention to profit from the eventual transfer of ownership, but rather to set up these three in partnership on equal footing,” Ogelsby said.

The shared financing and split maintenance costs will alleviate the organizations’ daily expenses. Leasing out a third of the remaining office space at market value will then help earn a sustainable income that can be used for for retirement, paying off debt and supplementing the operations in Charleston. 

“For the Opportunity Center, the owning of property where your collaborating takes place adds that great element of asset growth to each organization, ensuring long-term financial stability,” Ogelsby said. 

Raising women up

The Women’s Business Center was a natural byproduct of the group’s desire to not only combine offices, but to combine their services, Bernique said. 

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey (far right) and others break ground on the Opportunity Center, which is slated to open at the end of the year on Rivers Avenue. (Photo/Provided) It’s one of three new centers to be announced within the last year and will be the first to serve the tri-county. Other locations include Greenville and Columbia’s Benedict College. 

Increasing H.O.P.E. will run its daily operations thanks to a $125,000 Small Business Association grant. 

“Women need support. The women’s sector is the fastest growing sector of small business owners throughout the United States, as well as right her in Charleston,” she said. 

The center will provide small business training and entrepreneurship services for those thinking about starting up their own business. Services will carry through startup phase into those with existing businesses. 

Throughout the last 20 years, of all the individuals Mazyck has worked with, the top two assets they always want to work towards are starting a business and buying a house. He recognizes the importance of business development, asset development and wealth building, just as the other nonprofits do.

“We recognize the synergy with what we’re doing,” he said. “Our approach to building an ecosystem is really elements of collaboration and of bringing expertise to the table so that these entrepreneurs can have the best information to help them be successful.” 

Reach Teri Errico Griffis at 843-849-3144.

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