Here comes Lyneir Richardson again, inviting small investors to buy into his effort to improve a shopping center in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Baltimore. This time, it happens to be Edmondson Village Shopping Center, the scene Wednesday morning of a deadly mass shooting, the kind of tragedy that resonates on multiple levels — for the family and classmates of the young victims, for the neighborhood, for a shopping center that has seen much better days.
“I got 10 calls asking me, ‘Are you still going to go through with the deal, are you committed to the project?’” says Richardson, the Chicago real estate investor who has a contract to buy Edmondson Village. “My company was set up to do retail development in majority Black neighborhoods because, if a retail and commercial corridor is disinvested or blighted, it brings down value in the neighborhood. It attracts crime. It attracts civil disorder. So, in some respects, I’m leaning in now. It has made me more passionate about getting this to the finish line.”
In Wednesday’s violence, five high school students were shot, one of them, 16-year-old Deanta Dorsey, fatally, outside a fast-food restaurant. Long before that, Richardson had been working on acquiring Edmondson Village, raising hope — dare I use that word? — that the long-neglected shopping center might finally get the makeover it needs.
And Richardson wants to raise money for the purchase in the same way he acquired Walbrook Junction Shopping Center in West Baltimore two years ago.
As I reported in February 2021, Richardson wanted to do more than just write a check for $6.2 million for Walbrook Junction. He made a pitch: For as little as $1,000, anyone over the age of 18 could become a part owner in the shopping center with him and the Chicago-based social enterprise he founded in 2016, TREND.
Richardson launched a crowdfunding page and hoped to raise maybe $35,000.
Instead, the project raised $330,000 from 130 mostly Black investors — 24% of them from the same ZIP code as Walbrook Junction (21216) and 40% of them Maryland residents. The average investment, Richardson says, was about $2,200.
“It resonated with people that having a small ownership stake matters and that this was an opportunity for Black community economic development,” he says. “The thesis is that people having a small investment will patronize, protect and respect the shopping center, and that it will strengthen the neighborhood.”
Richardson’s venture received a city grant of $1.5 million for facade improvements and roof replacement. Getting that kind of help in place, he says, set the stage for his purchase.
In addition to the supermarket, pharmacy and other tenants already doing business at Walbrook Junction, Richardson hopes to attract a bank branch, a laundromat and a health care provider in the next year. Then, he says, his investors will start seeing a return. “We still believe [they] will make two or three times their investment,” he says, “but it’s going to take five or six years before we’ll really know if we’re right.”
Walbrook Junction represented the first time Richardson tried raising funds this way. He now wants to offer the same deal for Edmondson Village and plans to make the pitch to the public soon.
His goal, he says, is getting more people — and other Black people, specifically — to have a stake in the real estate in their neighborhoods, particularly in their shopping centers.
Edmondson Village presents challenges, he says. For one thing, there are covenants, dating from 1945, that limit how the shopping center can be altered. He needs the owners of 59 adjoining parcels to agree to changes that would loosen architectural restrictions and make it easier for him to attract national retailers. Releases from the covenants are also needed, Richardson says, to build senior housing at Edmondson Village.
He’s been holding community meetings and knocking on doors to detail his $15 million plan for renovating the shopping center. But he’s been dismayed, he says, by the reluctance of some older residents to break from the covenants.
“The seniors remember what Edmondson Village was in its heyday,” he says. “Those are the parcel owners who have lived in the community for decades. It’s hard for them to believe the shopping center can be good again, it’s been bad for so long.”
Younger residents, he says, have readily agreed to the changes and to his plan. They want to see something happen to Edmondson Village.
“It has a dense population of residents with income on three sides of the shopping center, and 40,000 vehicles pass there each day,” Richardson says. “It has the retail fundamentals — visibility, access, parking.”
He has a commitment from the city for $8 million toward the renovations, reflecting Mayor Brandon Scott’s push to get a new owner and improve Edmondson Village.
But the challenge remains — not only in covenants and community buy-in, but in attracting investors and retailers to a shopping center that just had a mass shooting.
Richardson knows what prospective retailers will ask: “Is this a safe place for my employees? Will my customers come here? Will I have to spend so much on security and safety that the store won’t be profitable?”
Tough questions and a tough sell. But Richardson sounds committed. After Wednesday’s shooting, he says, he prayed for the families of the victims and expressed the hope — dare we use that word? — that only better days await Edmondson Village.