When you think of Habitat for Humanity, the first thing that comes to mind is a house being built, with volunteers and a prospective family working side by side to create an affordable home that will serve as the foundation for a better life. But in Muncie, IN, the local Habitat for Humanity’s approach to community building extends beyond any single home, instead focusing on a holistic approach rooted in the revitalization and reuse of community assets that have long been dormant.
It’s an approach that has paid significant dividends, and one that started with a foundational question in 2012 when the Muncie chapter of Habitat for Humanity was engaged in a strategic planning initiative.
If you think about the mission of Habitat being to bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope, what would it look like to fully live out and push into that mission statement?
“We knew we could keep building one house on one lot for one family and continue increasing home ownership, and there would be nothing wrong with that. It’s what Habitat for Humanity has done over and over again for a long time,” recalled Jena Ashby, Director of Impact & Programs for the Muncie Habitat for Humanity. “But we wanted to challenge ourselves. If you think about the mission of Habitat being to bring people together to build homes, communities, and hope, what would it look like to fully live out and push into that mission statement?”
The answer to that question is the 8twelve Coalition, a neighborhood revitalization initiative IFF’s real estate team has supported in recent years that’s focused on Muncie’s South Central and Thomas Park/Avondale neighborhoods. A once thriving area buoyed by multiple auto manufacturing plants, the city’s south side was hit hard when rapid deindustrialization resulted in plant closures – and then again when the Great Recession came in 2007. Long-time residents who came from generations of factory workers began to leave and, with limited drivers of economic activity, neighborhoods in the area could no longer support the many independent businesses that contributed to a sense of community.
Despite these challenges, a group of residents (like Debra Simmons), who had seen the community at its best and were committed to revitalizing it, believed it was an attractive choice and that existing facilities could be repurposed to meet current needs in the community. With that, the 8twelve Coalition got to work.
“There was some really great synergy already happening in the area, and we felt like coming alongside neighbors and organizations that were working together, supporting their vision and convening people together in a new way would further push that work to happen,” Ashby says. “We released our first strategic plan in March of 2016 after hearing from residents about what they were interested in seeing in the community.”
Residents’ aspirations included access to affordable housing; empowered businesses and residents that fuel a growing local economy; education and family support so that kids are confident, connected and curious, with healthy, supportive families; and beautification of the community so that it is functional and inclusive, with inspiring infrastructure and amenities. Working with a framework developed by Habitat International, the 8twelve Coalition determined that its ultimate goal would be to improve quality of life in the area. Emblematic of the Coalition’s achievements since is the Rosebud Coffee House.
The Rosebud Coffee House
When Muncie’s South Central and Thomas Park/Avondale neighborhoods were booming, residents had ample options within walking distance for a cup of coffee in the morning, a quick meal for lunch, or a beer with coworkers at the end of a shift. These businesses not only met their immediate needs, but acted as the backdrop for neighbors to connect, building a tangible sense of community. Residents wanted that again.
“At the core of the Coalition’s work is our residents, and the foundational outcomes we’re working toward together are a sense of community, social cohesion, and collective action,” Ashby explained. “A coffee shop actually brings a couple of those things together. It’s in the business sector, but it has a direct impact on sense of community and social cohesion since it’s a venue for neighbors to connect.”
To find a location well suited to house a coffee shop, the Coalition engaged IFF’s real estate team to conduct a feasibility study of the redevelopment of vacant or underutilized properties at the intersection of Hoyt Avenue and Memorial Drive, and a member of the Coalition ultimately purchased a former bank building that was sitting empty. Now, the Coalition had to find the right entrepreneur to make the vision a reality.
“We met with a couple of potential owners for the coffee shop, but it didn’t feel like the right fit for what we were looking for, with someone who would be community-minded while running the business and commit to employing residents from the neighborhood,” Ashby said. “But we have a small business incubator in Muncie, and someone connected us with Ted Baker, who runs it. Ted knew a woman named Tiara Hicks, who had been searching for a location to open her own coffee shop, and introduced us. We talked about the Coalition’s vision, and it became clear that Tiara’s energy, desire, and passion aligned with everything we’d been looking for.”
In a Nutshell
What: Rosebud Coffee Shop, part of 8twelve Coalition’s community revitalization plan
Sector: Community Development
Location: Muncie, IN (Thomas Park/Avondale)
Cost: $194,500 (acquisition and renovation)
- Private capital
- Muncie Industrial Revolving Loan Fund
IFF Support: Feasibility study, project budget and timeline, defining project structure, pre-development services, technical assistance during construction
Design: US Architects
General Contractor: C+S Construction
For Hicks, the meeting was the launching point for the realization of a lifelong dream. A native of Muncie’s south side, Hicks’ first job was at a diner in nearby Oakville, IN, where at 12 years old she began working after her mother encouraged her to fill glasses during a busy Christmas party and the owner offered her a job she worked through the end of college. Though Hicks later earned an MBA and went on to a career in human resources, her experience early in life stuck with her.
“I always wanted to own my own business, and I had that entrepreneurial spirit, but I’m also very risk adverse,” Hicks explained. “Once I had a family, I needed the stability of a steady job. But then a couple of years ago, I started driving by an old ice cream shop and restaurant that was for sale, and it was calling to me. I got in touch with the realtor, set up an appointment, and started thinking about launching my own café and focusing on coffee. One of my strengths has always been that I’m good at bringing people together, and I felt like a coffee shop was the perfect place for people to sip a great drink and get the conversations flowing with a little bit of caffeine.”
While Hicks determined after closer inspection that the property needed more repairs than she was willing to invest in, her desire to own and operate a coffee shop that could serve as a social hub for neighbors was crystallized, leading to her meeting with the 8twelve Coalition in the very building Rosebud Coffee would eventually call home. After agreeing that the partnership with the Coalition was the right fit, Hicks set about the hard work of bringing her vision to life.
Once Hicks’ secured financing for the property through the Muncie Industrial Revolving Loan Fund, helping her through each step of the renovation process for the 2,495-square-foot building was Bryan Conn, an Indiana-based Senior Project Manager on IFF’s real estate team. Having previously completed a feasibility study for the property for the 8twelve Coalition, Conn was familiar with the building and spearheaded lease negotiations and zoning approvals, developed a project budget and timeline for the buildout of the coffee shop, identified contractors, coordinated with the architect and the general contractor, and provided technical assistance after construction was underway.
“I had a vision at a high level, and Bryan partnered with me as my project manager to organize the process,” Hicks said. “He was really good on the compliance piece of it. There was so much collaboration needed, just coordinating multiple schedules.”
Working with a trusted partner in IFF allowed Hicks to best leverage her skillset by focusing on Rosebud’s business plan and creating a welcoming space. In the spirit of community renewal, Hicks’ goal was to repurpose as much of the former bank building as possible when building out her coffee shop.
“This was a bank, and I didn’t want to try to disguise that,” Hicks said. “We stripped all the drywall off of the vault and exposed the concrete, and customers can sit in the vault. The drive-through window was the bank drive up. The floors are exposed concrete because when I ripped up the carpet and stripped the glue, that’s what was there. We used wood paneling and warm colors to make the space feel less cold. Everything in the shop has a story. There’s a desk that used to be in the Mayor’s office and the rest of the furniture came from estate sales or Facebook Marketplace. Everything had another life, and we’ve been able to repurpose it.”
This was about creating a destination and giving people who haven’t been to the neighborhood a reason to come this way.
Since opening in December 2020, Rosebud Coffee Shop (named for Hicks’ grandfather, who was nicknamed Rosebud and who “always had an open door and a cup of coffee for anybody”) has done brisk business despite the pandemic. With artisan products from local women entrepreneurs on sale in the shop and two meeting rooms available free of charge for anyone in the neighborhood in need of a community space, Rosebud is both a realization of Hicks’ vision and an important milestone in the 8twelve Coalition’s efforts to revitalize the south side of Muncie.
“So many people come into the coffee shop and say they’ve never been to this side of town before,” Hicks says. “This was about creating a destination and giving people who haven’t been to the neighborhood a reason to come this way, but it was also about giving the people who live here a nice place they can walk to where they can enjoy themselves. I love that we’re exceeding expectations.”
With Rosebud now established and a team of resident leaders fully bought into the potential that exists to strengthen their community, the 8twelve Coalition is just getting started. A new community health center is in in the works nearby the coffee shop, while murals are being painted on the buildings in the area to enhance curb appeal. Down the street, The Common Market recently bought and installed a commercial refrigerator to meet local residents’ expressed need for grocery store staples, like fresh meat, milk, and eggs. With additional projects on the horizon, Muncie’s south side is once again beginning to reflect the aspirations of those who call the community home.