West End Revitalization Project Gets Underway

Credit union, community kitchen, and garden to replace former Patterson Avenue restaurant.

The former Villa Sorrento property in Mountain View is poised to begin a radical transformation, thanks to the West End Center for Youth, Freedom First Credit Union, the City of Roanoke, and grants from the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Site preparation for the project will begin this month on the half-acre tract, located at 1210 Patterson Avenue SW. Plans for the site include an urban mix of commercial and meeting space, a community pavilion with a full-service production kitchen, and gardens to encourage and promote healthy financial and physical lifestyles. Project organizers are working to attract a supermarket to the area as part of the overall project.

“We are thrilled to see this project take its first steps toward completion,” said Joy Parrish, Executive Director of the West End Center, which owns the property and will oversee its community activities. “We see this as becoming a hub for this neighborhood and a catalyst for revitalization.”

The project will be anchored by a full-service Freedom First branch scheduled to open in early 2013, which will serve the West End, Hurt Park, and Mountain View neighborhoods. In addition to a broad range of financial services, the Credit Union offers specialized financial products and programs designed to support first-time home buyers and low- and moderate-income households that have been underserved by traditional banking institutions. Freedom First has been designated a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) by the U.S. Treasury, certifying its mission to provide credit and community development assistance to economically challenged communities.

“When Freedom First became CDFI certified in 2010, it was our goal to invest in the growth of the entire community” said Credit Union President/CEO Paul Phillips. “The West End project is representative of what can be achieved through a collaboration of public and private investments dedicated to real change in the area.”

The planned production kitchen and gardens will enable the West End Center to bring fresh food and nutrition education to the neighborhood, and the community meeting space will accommodate educational initiatives. Freedom First and the West End Center are also working with a number of neighborhood organizations, including the Local Environmental and Agricultural Project (LEAP) and the Roanoke Community Garden Association (RCGA), as well as area schools and service organizations, to help plan and guide best use and practices for the project, says Parrish.

The project was spurred by an $850,000 CDFI Fund grant to Freedom First intended to promote economic revitalization in low-income communities by assisting with initial branch operating costs, community-based financial education, and job creation. To expand the scope of the project, those funds were combined with $343,176 in HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the City of Roanoke to the West End Center.

“Roanoke is fortunate to have a financial institution like Freedom First invest in an underserved community,” said Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill. “I commend them for taking the lead in this important initiative that can make a real difference in people’s lives.”

For more information go to www.westendcenter.org