CDC works to revive former North Philly church into a community center

A rendering of the Rev. Leon H Sullivan Impact Center is shown.
Courtesy of Micheal Major

At the corner of Broad and Venango streets in North Philadelphia, the Called to Serve Community Development Corporation and the Leon H. Sullivan Community Development Corporation are leading an effort to transform the once Zion Baptist Church Annex into the Rev. Leon H Sullivan Impact Center.

The community impact center will honor Leon H. Sullivan, a civil rights leader who paved the way for the progression of African Americans throughout North Philly. 

The building construction for this development will be overseen by the Mosaic Development Partners, a black-owned real estate development firm.

As a freely accessible public space, the community impact center will be open to the public on a daily basis. The impact center has the ability to have a far reaching impact beyond its immediate neighborhood, such as other community residents, students from local neighborhood schools, and given the proximity to Broad Street, Germantown and Erie—all major hubs for transportation—many others in surrounding neighborhoods. 

Two key members overseeing the project are Called to Serve CDC’s Micheal Major and Schultz & Williams’ Jean Tickell. Schultz & Williams consulting works with many nonprofits—their work will be coordinated with the Mosaic Development Partners as they move forward with plans for the renovation.

The community impact center will feature an all accessible multipurpose room for community use, a technology center that will bridge the digital divide for youth, a community arts center that will offer art programs by Alice and Daisy’s Kin LLC, an African-American women-owned and locally based business. Additionally, Temple University will be operating several programs for North Philadelphia residents out of the impact center. 

The CDC’s have secured over $1.5 million in public funding from the state of Pennsylvania and City of Philadelphia, through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and Commerce Department of Philadelphia’s Neighborhood Economic Development Grant. They have also raised over $1 million from the William Penn Foundation, McLean Contributionship and the Gordon Family Foundation and over $500,000 from individuals such as H. Chase Lenfest, Chrissy Kind and others. They are also pursuing approximately $4.75 million in tax credits and are attempting to secure the remaining $3 million needed through a public capital campaign being launched this month in honor of Rev. Sullivan’s 100th birthday. 

Schultz & Williams believes in the power of CDCs to mobilize philanthropic support as well as public funding to complete projects like this one that are tailored to each community’s interest,” said Tickell. 

A series of community meetings have taken place to discuss plans for development. Schultz & Williams has also conducted one-on-one conversations with many residents and project stakeholders to better understand expectations for the Sullivan Community Impact Center, including architectural plans. 

Community members have expressed concerns with the project in regards to Temple University’s involvement, saying Temple has occupied a great percentage of housing and development in North Philadelphia with minimal give back to the community. Major had relayed that Temple University will be occupying roughly 25% of the leasable space. Temple has promised to house programs in the impact center that will benefit neighborhood residents such as community health programs, violence prevention, workforce training, food access, and college outreach. 

Major and other key members of the project anticipate a 2024 opening. Major believes that this development demonstrates what is possible for Community Development Corporations to do.  

We view this as a public-private opportunity to invest not just in restoring a building but in investing in people. I represent what is possible when people are provided with the opportunity and resources to improve their lives,” said Major.