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YS Development Corporation explores new loan program

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At its most recent meeting, on Tuesday, July 13, conducted online, the Yellow Springs Development Corporation, or YSDC, took action toward addressing a perceived deficiency in the local financing of for-profit economic development projects.

YSDC President Lisa Abel introduced the matter, noting that YSDC’s impact investment subcommittee — Abel, Lisa Kreeger and Shelly Blackman — had recently met with members of the Yellow Springs Community Foundation to discuss finding “ways to make funds available,” specifically through long-term, low-interest loans to for-profit initiatives.

Abel, who is also the Community Foundation’s board chairperson as well as the chairperson of its Impact Investment Committee, pointed out that the Foundation’s focus is primarily nonprofit ventures. But while the Foundation isn’t set up to address the for-profit sector, the YSDC’s status as a nonprofit might provide an avenue for tapping into Foundation funding, Abel said.

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She noted that two separate business proposals had recently been presented to the Foundation, but the Foundation couldn’t accommodate them because of their for-profit nature. The YSDC, however, might be able to address that gap, she said.

She suggested that the group work with the Yellow Springs Credit Union in setting up a new loan program.

“Our role would be to put together a process,” she said. That process would include “how people request funds, how people would get funds, the loan terms, and of course, we would monitor.”

Clifton Mayor Alex Bieri, who represents his community on the YSDC, suggested that the initiative have a mission statement that would direct its focus.

“The nature of impact investing can be quite subjective,” he said.

Abel said she saw the effort as part of the group’s continuing work on defining and refining its community development values.

Village Council member Kreeger agreed.

“We have an opportunity to create a rubric to articulate our values and express them through these loans,” Kreeger said. “The less subjective, the better we will be.”

“I feel like we are at a very critical juncture” in defining the YSDC’s values and purpose,” Kreeger added. The quasi-governmental economic development group is just in its second year, having formed shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group voted unanimously to move forward with establishing a for-business loan fund, agreeing not only to form a subcommittee to develop the program, but also to work with the credit union on the details and to request $500,000 in seed money from the Community Foundation. Subcommittee members include Abel, Kreeger and Blackman; Corrie Van Ausdal and Don Hollister, both of whom represent Miami Township on the board; and Jeannamarie Cox, the Community Foundation’s executive director and an ex-officio YSDC member.

In other business from the July 13 YSDC meeting:

• The group welcomed Village Council member Kevin Stokes as one of Council’s two representatives on the economic development board. Stokes replaces Marianne MacQueen, who stepped down from the YSDC last month, stating that she felt she “was no longer being effective,” as her “primary intent in serving did not seem to be aligned” with the board’s direction.

Stokes said he looks forward to working with the group and seeing in what capacities he can best serve.

“I do not anticipate being an exact plug-and-play for all the things Marianne was involved in,” Stokes said, but added, “I’m at your disposal.”

• A handful of downtown merchants logged into the online meeting for the first time, but gave no input. When asked by Abel if any of the visitors wanted to say anything, several replied that they were “just listening” to the proceedings.

• Treasurer Hannah Montgomery, who represents Antioch College, reported that YSDC will receive $33,593 as commission for its part in the sale of the former firehouse on Corry Street. The group served as the selling agent for Miami Township, selecting a $424,000 bid from Dave Chappelle’s Iron Table Holdings, which plans to convert the building to a comedy club and restaurant.

• In follow-up to a discussion last month about the economic impact implications of the school levy — a combined 6.5-mill property tax and 0.5% income tax going before voters in November — Van Ausdal reiterated YSDC’s interest in the school district as one of the largest employers in town and as a driver in attracting new residents and businesses to the village. Two school board members are also voting members of YSDC, and the superintendent serves in an ex-officio capacity.

While Van Ausdal clearly supports the levy, and Stokes suggested the YSDC might “be the lead banner carrier” in the effort, Shelly Blackman, a community representative, and Miami Township Trustee Don Hollister said they feel YSDC should remain neutral regarding the issue.

The full membership agreed, however, that gathering and sharing relevant information is within their purview.

“I would hope as a community we pride ourselves on evidence-based decisions,” Kreeger said.

Bieri concurred.

“I think we’re all in agreement that we want to present the facts.”

• The group has agreed to host a community picnic — for village and township residents — from 6–8:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 29, weather permitting, at Mills Lawn. Van Ausdal, who brought the idea to the board, said the event’s purpose is to “get people back together” and promote “face-to-face communication.”

The meeting ended in executive session to discuss “real estate and business development.” The group has scheduled a special meeting for Friday, July 23, to continue the executive session and likely take public action on the business discussed. The 4 p.m. meeting will be conducted through the Zoom online video conference platform.

In response to an email from the News about the YSDC not complying with Ohio’s Sunshine rules requiring in-person meetings, Abel responded that the group was operating on “two legal opinions” that say the nonprofit falls outside the state’s code for governmental bodies. Nevertheless, she said, the group is “exploring days and times that work for the board to meet in person, or via a hybrid approach for anyone who needs to join occasionally via phone.”

According to the Ohio Sunshine Manual, community improvement corporations must follow open meetings and public records law with limited exceptions related to financial and proprietary information and confidential business plans.

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