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Workers in the hood: $1.5 million program seeks to stem decay in urban neighborhoods.

At a 1989 planning retreat, revitalizing older neighborhoods was identified as a priority by the Little Rock Board of Directors.

In part because of that brainstorming session, there's a new acronym in central Arkansas -- LISC.

Supporters of the concept believe it will provide grass-roots solutions to reverse the spread of urban decay.

The Local Initiatives Support Corp. of New York accepted an invitation to study metropolitan Little Rock. Officials of the non-profit organization, created in 1979 by the Ford Foundation and six other corporate donors, liked the potential they saw and agreed to come to Arkansas.

Could this down-to-earth program be the ingredient needed to rebuild neighborhoods and nurture an unprecedented level of community cooperation?

Some of the state's most influential business leaders are banking on it.

LISC will channel private-sector financial resources to non-profit community development corporations.

"The impetus |comes~ from the people who live in the neighborhoods," says Curt Bradbury, chairman and chief executive officer of Little Rock's Worthen Banking Corp.

By the end of 1991, LISC supporters had committed more than $569 million to CDC projects nationwide. Those projects attracted an additional $1.6 billion from public and private sources. The result was construction of -- or improvements to -- 29,000 housing units and 7 million SF of commercial and industrial space.

Government officials and business leaders were impressed by what they saw on visits to LISC neighborhoods across the country.

"They could bridge the communication and technical expertise gap between neighborhood organizations, developers and the financial community," says Lee Jones, an assistant to Little Rock City Manager Tom Dalton.

LISC chose Little Rock-North Little Rock as one of three new national demonstration areas. The other two were New Orleans and Palm Beach County in Florida. Little Rock-North Little Rock is the smallest metropolitan area ever chosen for an LISC program.

The national organization awarded a $750,000 grant to help finance the local effort. Businesses and philanthropic organizations banded together to raise $750,000 in local matching funds.

It is the largest pool of cash ever amassed by the local private sector for such a venture, according to officials at the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.

"It's a promising example of what we can do for the common good if we all pull together," says Barnett Grace, chairman and CEO of Little Rock's First Commercial Corp. "What they bring to the table is not only money but their expertise."

A Starting Point

LISC has identified nine neighborhoods on both sides of the Arkansas River as possible target areas.

Three of the Little Rock neighborhoods are within an area bound by Interstate 30 on the east, Woodrow Street on the west, Interstate 630 on the north and the Union Pacific Railroad Co. tracks near the Arkansas State Fairgrounds on the south.

Two of the North Little Rock neighborhoods are within an area bound by I-30 on the east, the Arkansas River on the south, Fort Roots on the west and 18th-22nd streets on the north.

The other targeted areas are Pankey in west Little Rock, College Station, the McClellan High School area in southwest Little Rock and the Dixie Addition in North Little Rock.

All represent fertile ground for the CDC concept. The list will be pared to six neighborhoods in the coming weeks because of staff limitations.

Three community organizers were hired by LISC to screen the nine areas.

Jeanne Felecia Cooks, Carl Dokes and Willie Jones draw their $18,000 annual salaries from the LISC start-up pool. Cooks, Dokes and Jones are visiting residents in the neighborhoods to determine which six contain people most ready to work.

Four of the six neighborhoods will be in Little Rock, and two will be in North Little Rock.

Richard Barrera, the area LISC coordinator, believes this is only the first wave of CDCs that will spring up in Pulaski County.

"In the next three or four years, you could see 10 to 15 CDCs in Little Rock and North Little Rock," he says.

Community organizers also are identifying 15-20 leaders in each of the nine neighborhoods to serve as CDC board members. The residents will be in charge of choosing projects and determining how they will accomplish their goals.

Each CDC will function as an unconventional real estate development firm, augmented by a technical advisory team of local professionals. The advisory team will help the CDC boards develop their ideas into plans that will attract financing.

Spurred by the LISC mentality of "let's build something," the CDC boards will decide where and what to build in the neighborhoods. Construction of affordable housing, rehabilitation of existing homes and commercial development are among the possibilities.

"People are excited about LISC and the idea |of~ community empowerment," Jones says. "There has been talk about it before, but there has never been a vehicle for this ... If the neighborhoods originate the idea, they will have ownership, and that's the key."

This grass-roots control has been the catalyst for the success of other CDCs across the country.

"There will be a pride factor and emotional attachment to everything they do," Barrera says.

The projects won't be based solely on need, as is often the case with federal programs. Each will have to make economic sense.

Proposals from the CDCs will be reviewed by an LISC board composed of representatives from the primary corporate and philanthropic contributors. Members of the board haven't been named yet. But given the list of contributors, the banking community will be heavily represented.

Approval by the LISC board will amount to an endorsement to fund CDC projects.

Cause For Excitement

This bottom-up method of solving neighborhood problems is exciting Little Rock and North Little Rock residents.

"Heretofore, officials from various organizations had established the programs and approach," Dokes says. "This program goes to the people and lets them decide what they need. There's a lot of positive concern from the people I'm talking with. They're ready to go work, and they want to know when."

The hope is that CDC projects will result in increased involvement in additional areas by residents who have felt disenfranchised for years.

"I see more individuals taking charge of their areas and more pride," Dokes says. "... It will make things better for everyone, and it will deter something like what happened in south central LA from happening in Little Rock."

Even in the areas of Los Angeles that experienced destructive riots, neighborhood CDC projects were spared. This survival story highlights the protective mantle residents place over self-initiated projects.

"In the final analysis, we can't revitalize the neighborhoods," says Jim Lawson, director of Little Rock's Department of Neighborhoods and Planning. "We can only help."

The impact of revitalization could go beyond the physical. Better communication and more sensitivity are LISC goals.

The expectations sound too good to be true.

But what if it were to happen?

Funding The Initiative

Business And Philanthropic Organizations Give $750,000 To Get LISC Rolling

Business and community leaders in Little Rock and North Little Rock raised $750,000 in less than six months for a low-income neighborhood renewal program.

That brought in an additional $750,000 from the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a national non-profit organization that provides neighborhood-based development groups with financial and technical support.

Curt Bradbury and Barnett Grace, the current and immediate past chairmen, respectively, of the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded the drive by phoning and writing prospective contributors.

Bradbury chairs Worthen Banking Corp., and Grace chairs First Commercial Corp., the state's largest bank-holding companies.

Eight other Little Rock lenders joined the party by contributing unspecified sums of cash.

Conspicuous by their absence were two Little Rock banks (Pulaski Bank & Trust Co. and Citizens First Bank) and two North Little Rock-based lenders (National Bank of Arkansas and Twin City Bank).

"Unfortunately we can't participate in every worthy project that's presented to us," says Susan Blair, a spokeswoman for TCB.

Citizens First is represented indirectly by TCBY Enterprises Inc. of Little Rock, which contributed to the cause. Frank Hickingbotham controls both ventures.

"It's very commendable what they're doing," Al Harkins, president and chief executive officer of NBA, says of the LISC initiative. "But we're doing something even greater."

Harkins is referring to NBA's "Building On The Rock" program, which has made about $1.5 million in loans to revitalize housing in low-income areas of North Little Rock, Sherwood and Jacksonville.

Program loans cover 100 percent of the purchase price and funds needed for renovation without the aid of government guarantees. Most of the borrowers purchased properties from the Resolution Trust Corp. and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The LISC program will attempt to make an impact on both sides of the Arkansas River.

Why didn't Pulaski Bank & Trust join the parade of bankers backing LISC?

"I support what they're doing, but we feel like we meet our community needs through our internal programs," says Robert Magee, president and CEO of the bank. "We loan to low- and moderate-income people all the time."

The central Arkansas corporate and philanthropic contributors to the LISC seed capital fund are:

* Alltel Corp. * American Abstract & Title Co. * Arkansas Democrat Gazette * Arkansas Power & Light Co. * Arkla Inc. * Bank of Little Rock * Beach Abstract & Guaranty Co. * Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Arkansas * Central Bank & Trust * Deltic Farm & Timber Co. * Eagle Bank & Trust Co. * Entergy Corp. * First Commercial Bank * First Exchange Bank of Little Rock * Levi Strauss Foundation * Metropolitan National Bank * One National Bank * Orbit Valve Foundation * Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. * Superior Federal Bank * Systematics Information Services Inc. * TCBY Enterprises Inc. * Trinity Foundation * Union National Bank of Arkansas * Winrock Enterprises Inc. * Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation * Worthen National Bank of Arkansas

The Organizers

LISC Puts Three Veterans In The Neighborhoods

Willie Jones, 42

Jones is a community organizer for the neighborhoods of downtown Little Rock, McCellan High School and the Dixie Addition of North Little Rock Central High School and earned his bachelor's degree in political science from Arkansas Tech University at Rusellville in 1971.

Work Background:

* Department manager for Sears Roebuck & Co. at Little Rock (1971-73).

* Assistant store manager for Service Merchandise Corp. at Atlanta (1973-75).

* Community center director for Little Rock Department of Parks and Recreation (1975-79).

* Executive director of Association of Black Social Workers at Little Rock (1978-80).

* Public relations director for Metropolitan Atlanta Girls Club (1980-83).

* Principal broker for Corporate One Investment Realty at Little Rock (1983-90).

* Service representative for the state Department of Human Services' Division of Economic and Medical Services at Little Rock (1990).

* Planning specialist for DHS Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention (1990-91).

Jeanne Felecia Cooks, 29

Cooks is a community organizer for the neighborhoods of Central High School, downtown North Little Rock and College Station.

She is a 1981 graduate of Little Rock Hall High School.

Work Background:

* Employee at Interchecks Inc. in North Little Rock (1980-87).

* Part-time janitorial services employee at the University of Arkansas college of Technology (1984-90).

* Board member and secretary for Eastside Community Development Corp. (1991-present).

Carl Dokes, 43

Dokes is a community organizer for the Pankey and Southend areas of Little Rock and the Baring Cross neighborhood in North Little Rock. He is a 1966 graduate of Scipio Africanus Jones High School in North Little Rock and in 1975 earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Philander Smith College at Little Rock.

Work Background:

* U.S. Army (1966-69).

* Associate teacher in the Little Rock School District (1972-75).

* Salesman for Sears Roebuck & Co. at Little Rock (1974-75).

* Community education supervisor for the Little Rock School District (1976-80).

* Adult education supervisor for the LSRD (1976-80).

* Assistant coordinator for the LSRD's Department of Community Education (1976-80).

* Director of Carver YMCA Urban Neighborhood Crime Prevention Program at Little Rock (1978-80).

* Salesman for Dayton Hudson Corp.'s Target Stores at Little Rock (1980-81).

* Membership coordinator for the Southern Coalition for Educational Equity, Arkansas Career Resources Project (1982-85).

* Paralegal for the Smith Humphrey & West law firm at Little Rock (1985-87).

* Part-time mail processor for the U.S. Postal Service at Little Rock (1985-86).

* Director of Allen W. Young Branch of the YMCA of Metropolitan Little Rock (1988-89).

* Employee of CDR Enterprises Inc. (1990-present).
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Title Annotation:includes related article of business and philantrophic organizations
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 18, 1992
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