Mechanicsville Partners LLC is a private, for-profit social enterprise revitalizing the Mechanicsville neighborhood, a distressed and underserved community in Atlanta, through cultural economic development. The business model centers on purchasing brownfield real estate in an area that has seen severe disinvestment, to provide an anchor around which the neighborhood can grow. The approach is to build a facility that leverages the arts to build community, offering individuals an opportunity to learn in an environment where the arts are being created. The project primarily offers entertainment and space for the creation and production of film and TV. Mechanicsville Partners’ vision is to interact with the neighborhood by providing jobs and education, and is consistent with WHATIF88’s approach to social impact investment and measurement. In the words of Ric Geyer, Mechanicsville’ sponsor, the project’s mission is “Development without displacement”.
Ric Geyer: From management consultant to successful social entrepreneur
After successful careers as an auto manufacturing executive at Ford Motors and management/strategy consulting with Deloitte, Ric Geyer created and developed the award winning 4731 Creative Arts Incubator along Grand River, Detroit between 2002 and 2005. Subsequently, Ric purchased the Mechanicsville property in Atlanta in 2015. From the inception, Ric’s mantra has been to leverage productive partnerships with community organizations, local government, and relevant state agencies, particularly the Georgia Brownfield Office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Once esteemed for its proximity to downtown Atlanta, the vibrant, multi-ethnic, southwest neighborhood of Mechanicsville, which sprang up around the hard-working railway mechanics and their families in the late 19th century, fell into disrepair with middleclass migration to the suburbs and the building of intersecting highways that affected the neighborhood’s residential vocation. The neighborhood is riddled with empty shells of industrial buildings and substandard housing amidst economic decline and escalating crime.
Mechanicsville Partners, LLC sits on two and a half acres of land containing approximately 45,000 square foot of space in seven buildings, including an iconic 1912 brick building that was a train repair station. A bourbon distillery is currently being considered. As the businesses grows, it continues to employ the disenfranchised or “hard to employ” to give hope to the citizens of Mechanicsville.
The project generates revenues with artists’ studios rental, music and corporate events, corporate offsites, promotional events as well as lucrative activities related to the booming Atlanta film industry.
Late 2017-early 2018, WHATiF engaged with Ric to support Mechanicsville LLC growth, through a fund raising advisory to finance repairs and upgrades to the facilities. It would also pave the way for future expansion, as Ric planned to create additional arts/learning projects in distressed and underserved communities in the state of Georgia, with brownfield real estate pre-identified through the EPA. In parallel, WHATiF used the development as a pilot building to demonstrate a “real world” success story to validate its urban re-development/economic empowerment mission.
Eventually, the project became cash flow positive in 2017, with prospects for considerable surplus cash that obviated the need for external funding.
A key outcome of WHATiF’s intervention was partnering with Wharton Social Impact Initiative (WSII) to sponsor a fellowship for two of WSII MBA students. The deliverable of the fellowship was: understanding the business model of Mechanicsville, determining its key success factors, analyzing the drivers for replicability and scalability; and measuring the project’s social impact. After 3 months of diligent work and periodic review by Ric, WHATiF and WSII Faculty, the MBA fellows delivered above expectations, a report rich in content and lessons learned. Other than the business factors, the report highlights the following social impact parameters, among others:
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