Pastor Adrian Brooks Sr. redefined the role of Memorial Baptist Church (MBC) in the center city of Evansville, Ind., 23 years ago. At that time, the church had a small membership of about 50 people and the community was distressed. Church members were diligent in meeting the spiritual needs of the community, but it was apparent that people were living in despair. Blight, poverty and addiction were just some of the challenges that they were facing. MBC, with its strong roots in the community, was called to be an agent of change. Pastor Brooks and his 50 faithful members made a commitment to be public servants and to create a church that would be involved in every facet of peoples’ lives. From that commitment was born the Memorial Community Development Corp. (MCDC), with the purpose of creating enriching opportunities in economic development, health services, housing, education, financial services, social services and youth development. MCDC would be vital to the transformation of Evansville’s center city.
Within the first five years of its ministry, MBC and MCDC experienced an abundance of growth. Church membership grew to over 1,200 and there was an emergence of center city revitalization. Blocks of dilapidated housing and abandoned warehouses were eliminated and replaced with the new Memorial Baptist Church, two senior housing complexes, a health center, child care facility, multifamily townhouses and a Subway restaurant. In addition to development, more than 50 ministries providing various supportive services were available. MBC established itself as a pioneer for holistic ministry in action. The people began to look to the church as a solution to their issues. To date, we have developed over 100 units of affordable housing; built and sold 13 single-family homes; employed hundreds of youth; supported children and families through our child care and educational programs; provided repair services to homeowners; and delivered access to fresh produce through our Urban Market.
MBC and MCDC have accomplished a lot. We have demonstrated the impact a church can make in the community through faith and hard work. In 2013, we began to re-evaluate the economic condition of our community. We found that more than 10 percent of the households were earning less than $10,000 per year, lacked transportation and had limited access to basic professional services such as insurance and banking. Concurrently, a 40,000-square-foot commercial building was becoming an eyesore in the community because the structure had not been properly maintained. It housed a full-service grocery store, a Family Dollar Store and additional space that was not being used and had potential for development.
The leadership staff of MCDC developed a plan to transform the building into a community asset and resource that would meet a need for the neighborhood. In 2014, the process of acquiring the building began. The owner and board of directors found MCDC to be a solid partner with a well-thought-out vision for the facility. They agreed to sell. The total project cost was $450,000, which included the acquisition and renovation of the facility. MCDC used various financing vehicles to close the deal: a grant from Evansville’s Department of Metropolitan Development, a donation from Old National Bank and a loan from IFF, a community development financial institution. In August 2015, MCDC and the community celebrated the opening of Memorial Shopping Plaza, which provides rental space for:
MCDC has plans to continue renovations of the facility so that additional businesses will see the benefit of locating in the community. Memorial Community Federal Credit Union, which will open by the summer of 2017, has already made plans and begun renovations to open in the plaza. Through our newly established Black Chamber of Commerce, we are also seeking to engage current and aspiring minority business owners to participate in this development. The competition for resources continues to increase, but we are diligent in our pursuit of partners that have a shared interest in empowering people.