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Community News: Southwest

LEIMERT PARK : Business Venture Is a Moving Experience

November 13, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY

Ron Carter and his associates didn't have to move mountains to get their project under way, but they came pretty close: They had to move a building.

"We were really determined to get things done, and we had to move the building we owned from Downtown to 8th Avenue and Vernon," explained Carter, chapter president of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, one of the partners in a venture that recently opened a business center in Leimert Park.

"We knocked down some transformers in the process, got the city to change some laws for us. . . . But we just had to get it over here."

That tenacity led to the relatively quick completion of the center, a two-story structure at 3001 W. Vernon Ave. Funded by two African American nonprofit organizations--the fraternity and the Crenshaw-based Black Employees Assn.--the center is one of the few post-riot projects completed without any government aid.

The center will provide new quarters for the BEA and its fledgling South-Central People's Federal Credit Union, as well as office space for several small new businesses.

For BEA president Clyde Johnson, who has been hard-pressed to find space for the credit union that would satisfy strict federal security regulations, the joint project materialized none too soon. Phi Beta Sigma members say the building represents a significant step for their organization, long known for community and social service.

"This is a real group effort, an economic collaborative that's entirely community-based," said commercial developer Anthony Samad, who like several others involved in the project is a member of the fraternity's Los Angeles alumni chapter. Phi Beta Kappa has a national membership of 90,000 black men.

The two-story, 6,300-square-foot building is not only home to the BEA and the credit union, but a post office box business called Leimert Park Mailboxes, as well as the Small Business Incubator.

Patterned after similar East Coast operations, the incubator provides office suites, receptionists, phones, fax machines, copiers and meeting rooms for start-up small businesses.

Incubator clients stay until they generate enough capital outlay to move into their own quarters elsewhere.

Businesses at the new center include a plumbing service, construction company, a nonprofit economic development corporation and a black personnel organization.

Samad said that, since opening, the incubator has developed a waiting list.

"It's the only one of its kind in the area," he said. "We figured, if this works in other cities, why not South-Central?"

The joint venture took shape soon after the fraternity bought a vacant Downtown post office from the federal government for $1 last year.

Johnson landed the Vernon Avenue site, which Phi Beta Sigma helped secure with a $125,000 loan obtained from the mortgage of their fraternity house on Crenshaw Boulevard.

With additional loans from Westside-based Royal Thrift and Loan and $20,000 in individual donations from fraternity members, the partners were able to literally get things off the ground. Some transformers were the only casualties during the awkward move of the 34-foot-tall building across town in August.

Of all the improvements to the building, the biggest was transforming the former site of a liquor store burned out during the riots into something truly benefiting the community, said Phi Beta Sigma region director Daryl Sweeney.

"We're not just bringing a building here, we're bringing jobs," he said. "It's something people can be proud of. They can walk by and not be afraid it'll attract crime."

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