December 14, 2017
The Erie Community Foundation has an unwritten rule when it comes it comes to investing in the community.
The rule, common to many charitable organizations, is that it invests the money it earns from the endowment, but not the endowment itself.
Trustees voted Tuesday to make an exception to that rule, using a portion of its endowment to make a $2.5 million investment in the Erie Downtown Development Corp.
There’s no guarantee that investment will pay dividends, said Mike Batchelor, president of the Erie Community Foundation.
But it’s a gamble — on the future of Erie — that the organization is prepared to take.
The Erie Community Foundation isn’t the only one taking a chance. The organization has joined Gannon University, UPMC Hamot and ErieBank, each of which has pledged $2.5 million to buy and renovate downtown real estate. Erie Insurance has pledged $5 million.
The EDDC, led by Erie Insurance CEO Tim NeCastro, is patterned after a redevelopment effort in Cincinnati, Ohio, where local businesses have spent millions of dollars transforming the city’s Over-the-Rhine community.
It was that success and the promise of creating a similar success story in Erie that prompted trustees to bend their rules, Batchelor said.
“We did a lot of due diligence, but at the end of the day it was a relatively easy decision,” he said. “We wanted to be a part of it. We think it’s a once-in-a-generation chance to rejuvenate the downtown.”
The Erie Community Foundation, a collection of more than 800 charitable endowments, doesn’t expect overnight results, but Batchelor thinks he has a pretty good idea of what success will look like.
Success, he said, is a school district with more tax money flowing into its coffers, a city with a larger population.
“If it works you will see more retail attracted to downtown and condominiums on the second floor. It’s a big deal and it’s a risk, but I would say it’s worth the risk.”
Tuesday’s announcement brings the total of firm commitments for the investment fund to $15 million, but sources have told the Erie Times-News there are unconfirmed pledges that push that total above $20 million.
Jim Martin can be reached at 870-1668 or by email. Follow him on
Twitter at www.twitter.com/ETNMartin.