The Arthur Blank Family Foundation has announced a new strategic plan and philanthropic grants for the Westside neighborhoods adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The foundation is giving an additional $2.4 million to encourage home ownership and economic opportunity in both the Vine City and English Avenue communities that have, over the years, been economically depressed.
In announcing the grant on Nov. 17, Blank reiterated his support for the area’s residents, many of whom have struggled to remain in their homes since the opening of the stadium in 2017.
“When we decided to build Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it was imperative that the stadium catalyze revitalization in the Westside,” Blank said earlier this month. “We view the stadium as an anchor institution and a citizen of the neighborhood with an opportunity and a responsibility to contribute to meaningful, positive change.”
The new grants are said to be the result of a comprehensive review of the Foundation’s support for the work it has done in the diverse neighborhood of the Westside, which, in recent years, has seen a considerable amount of redevelopment and an influx of young and often financially mobile new residents. Over the years, the Blank Foundation has spent $59 million to improve life in these areas of the city. Now, it is hoping to do more to keep longtime residents there.
The architect of the plan is Danny Shoy, the Blank Foundation director of their efforts on the Westside of Atlanta. Eight months ago, he was brought back to the Foundation, where he originally worked for 12 years before leaving to serve as the head of Atlanta’s East Lake Foundation. His mandate from Blank and Fay Twersky, who came to the Blank Family charity as president in February 2021, was to reappraise the Foundation’s work on the Westside. The announcement earlier this month was, according to Shoy, part of that mandate.
“The foundation’s work on the Westside of Atlanta, specifically in Vine City and English Avenue, is to increase the economic mobility for our legacy residents living in these mostly minority neighborhoods. As the neighborhoods on the Westside, inclusive of those two communities, continue to rapidly change they have choices for viable options to remain in the neighborhood.”
Complicating efforts to shore up the stability of the two neighborhoods is the fact that of the 7,000 residents there, only about 350 or about 5 percent own their own homes. The rest are renters, living in homes and apartments that are owned by investors and absentee landlords, with little incentive to improve the aging properties. Often, their interest in the area is fueled by its access to adjacent areas of the rapidly gentrifying Westside, the central business district and Blank’s billion-dollar stadium.
Although he admits it’s a difficult job, Shoy says the fight to improve the economic security of the residents in Vine City and English Avenue is not just a local issue but affects the entire city.
“We could not be asking for a better time to be focused ourselves on affordable housing and financial security. I also think if we don’t do this, the consequence of not being focused in this way is that the market will continue to do what it will do. And Atlanta will, unfortunately, across many of its neighborhoods, continue to become increasingly unaffordable.”
Blank has had personal experience with the importance of encouraging affordable housing. Growing up in a single parent home, as a teen, after the death of his father, the family lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens, N.Y., with a sofa bed in the living room. As part of the new direction, he has pledged that his Foundation will spend at least $5 million each year on the Westside project for the foreseeable future.
“We’re committed to continuing our investment in the Westside community,” Blank said, “and partnering with the residents and businesses there.”
The Foundation’s lead in the effort, Shoy, who is an African American but had a godfather who was Jewish, said that the job is too big even for the Blank Foundation. He said the most recent grant comes with an open invitation to other philanthropic organizations in the Jewish community in Atlanta to join in the effort.
“I know so many members of the Jewish community who have partnered with Arthur and the Family Foundation since its inception. But we’re inviting new donors to help us with this work, while at the same time we’re also thankful in this season of giving thanks for those who have been, part of this work.”