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A $50 million opportunity

The Rev. Donte L. Hickman, in a poignant commentary ("Reconciling the two Baltimores," May 8), described the divides that exist in our great city. He wrote of two sides of Baltimore, one side "populated with haves, the other have nots." And, while he maintains that those divides seem entrenched, he offers that to reconcile them, we must "unequivocally support innovative development while simultaneously restoring people and rebuilding properties in our neighborhoods."

At the Southwest Partnership, we believe rebuilding properties is the first step in restoring healthy communities. From improving attendance in our schools, preparing residents for career employment, cleaning streets and alleys, tackling public safety, ending food deserts and reclaiming vacant buildings, we understand the challenges we face as we work to improve the seven neighborhoods we serve in Southwest Baltimore. We also understand that rebuilding requires capital investment that is atypical of the type of funds currently available through the private sector.

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Fortunately, we have a committed partner that has established an investment fund which aims to transform economically challenged communities across the state by attracting investment from both the public and private sectors.

The Maryland Economic Development Corporation under the guidance of Gov. Larry Hogan recently established the Maryland Targeted Community Investment Fund (MTCIF). This fund, seeded with a contribution of $7.5 million from the state, aims to raise $50 million in private sector capital to be used to help finance the rebuilding of properties in Baltimore City, Prince George's County and targeted communities across our state.

This fund is critical to restoring the health of our communities. Sponsored by MEDCO and in collaboration with investment managers Oz Bengur of Bengur Bryan and Kevin Quinn of Wye River Group, the MTCIF was formed to be a catalyst for change. In our case, the managers have already toured our neighborhoods and identified key, strategically located buildings and properties that can be the foundation for positive change. The managers are prepared to pursue developers who want to make substantive social impacts. This catalytic effort is radically different from the typical lending institutions that respond to similar requests.

By acting as a catalyst, the MTCIF will entice developers to consider becoming partners in the restoration of Baltimore's Southwest neighborhoods. Through public infrastructure improvements, the fund will help develop underutilized properties and transform them into vibrant and viable streetscapes. And because the mission of the MTCIF employs a "double bottom line" investment strategy, it has a two-fold objective: to attract business, create jobs and induce investment in targeted communities and to provide a modest return to fund investors.

This is a golden opportunity for private sector lending by institutions and companies, philanthropic institutions and even individuals to help build a unified Baltimore where all of our citizens share in the innovative, exciting opportunities that abound throughout our city. The vision exists. The challenge is there. The residents of the Southwest Partnership are ever hopeful that the challenge will be met, $50 million in investment dollars will be raised and the vision will be realized.

Michael Seipp, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Southwest Partnership.

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