When the Emmanuel Family and Child Development Center broke ground on a 28,300-square-foot facility in 2018, the project was designed to provide more than 300 early childhood education (ECE) seats to local children as well as comprehensive support to families. The facility, located at 47th Street and Prospect Avenue in Kansas City, MO, was hailed as the largest investment in the Blue Hills neighborhood in 30 years.
Shortly after cutting the ribbon on the newly constructed, $9.6 million ECE center in February 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world – and the Emmanuel Center’s investment in community infrastructure became even more valuable than originally envisioned. The center was always designed to be more than an early childhood facility, with dedicated spaces to care for children up to age 13, as well as dedicated space to provide speech and language therapy, pediatric care, and dental services. So when the pandemic hit, leading to plunging enrollment just as the Emmanuel Center was opening its doors, they were able to pivot their services to continue to achieve their overarching mission: to support the community and its residents.
In a Nutshell
What: New facility for Emmanuel Family and Child Development Center in an area of Kansas City, MO, classified as a “child care desert.” Unexpectedly, the new facility enabled the organization to pivot during the pandemic to meet pressing community needs.
Sector: Early Childhood Education
Location: Kansas City, MO (Blue Hills)
Size: 28,300 square feet
Funding Sources: IFF, Weinberg Foundation, Kansas City’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), agency cash, and New Markets Tax Credits allocated by Central Bank of Kansas City and AltCap
IFF Support: Predevelopment and Owner’s Representation services provided by LaMar Miller, Director of Real Estate Solutions for the Southern Region; $5,049,660 in loans to cover predevelopment and construction costs facilitated by Stephen Westbrooks, Executive Director for the Southern Region
General Contractor: Kelly Construction Group
Legal Counsel: Hardwick Law Firm, LLC
Impact: 80 ECE seats created; 34 FTE jobs created
This refusal to let the circumstances change their core purpose was driven by Deborah Mann, the Emmanuel Center’s founder and executive director, who has been working in the community for more than 30 years. In a singular moment fraught with uncertainty, Mann transformed the Emmanuel Center’s new facility into a food pantry, a safe space for students to access high-speed internet for virtual learning, a COVID-19 vaccination clinic, and more.
In doing so, Mann forged a path through the pandemic, ensuring the organization could eventually provide the high-quality ECE services it originally planned as soon as it was safe to do so, while meeting the most pressing needs in the community in the meantime. Given the organization’s history and Mann’s indefatigability in bringing her vision for positive change to life in the neighborhood, the unplanned pivot shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s interacted with Mann over the years.
Although incorporated as a nonprofit in 1999, the Emmanuel Center’s roots stretch back to the earliest years of Mann’s life as she watched her mother run a child care business while also feeding neighborhood children who had nowhere else to turn for meals. As Mann grew up, she became increasingly involved in the care of children, until her mother eventually entrusted her with the care of 15 children.
In those early days of the Emmanuel Center’s history, Mann operated out of a single house in the neighborhood. More children soon followed, and Mann expanded into a second house nearby. By 1992, the Emmanuel Center had once again outgrown its space and moved into its first commercial property, though rapid increases in enrollment meant a second facility next door was soon needed. For the next 20+ years, the Emmanuel Center provided early childhood education and before- and after-school programming to approximately 200 children at any given time, equipping them with the tools needed to thrive despite constant constraints on space.
In 2016, Mann decided the time was right for the Emmanuel Center to take the next step in its evolution and began exploring financing options to construct a new facility. Her goal was to consolidate the Emmanuel Center’s operations from three locations into one that could provide ample space for future growth and amenities designed to meet the needs of young learners.
“We ran three different buildings, and some parents had to go to all three,” Mann recalls. “If you had a two-year-old, you’d have to go to one building, a second building if you had a school-aged child, and a third location if you had a baby. It was just crazy. The classrooms were all small, and there wasn’t much natural light.”
Mann began an aggressive campaign to raise funding and financing for the new facility, and IFF was among her diverse supporters – providing a $250,000 loan to cover predevelopment costs and a $2.85 million loan for construction. The project stalled, however, after running into difficulties in the design phase of the project. With several funding and financing streams for the project at risk because of the delay, Mann turned to IFF’s real estate team for help rightsizing the project in late 2017.
Mann worked with LaMar Miller, IFF’s Director of Real Estate Solutions for the Southern Region, who analyzed the original architecture and financial plans and helped her refine them with an eye for continued quality of care and smooth operations. Miller also tapped IFF’s network for qualified partners to complete the work, including an architect familiar with large nonprofit development projects – GastingerWalker& – and Hardwick Law Firm, which provided expertise in acquisition, team contracts, city negotiations, permit issues, and more.
Once the project was back on track, the complexity of the capital stack needed to finance construction led IFF to increase our loan amount for construction to $4.8 million – the largest loan ever made by IFF at the time. This action eliminated the need for appraisals and simplified the deal structure. Along with IFF, the project was completed with support from the Weinberg Foundation, Kansas City’s Public Improvements Advisory Committee, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars, agency cash, and New Markets Tax Credits allocated by Central Bank of Kansas City and AltCap.
Though the Emmanuel Center has not reached full capacity in its new facility yet because of lingering concerns about COVID-19, the building itself has more than lived up to Mann’s expectations.
The best parts of this building are just the space, the windows, and the openness. We have the room now for all kinds of programming we couldn’t offer before.
“The best parts of this building are just the space, the windows, and the openness,” Mann says. “We have the room now for all kinds of programming we couldn’t offer before. A few weeks ago, we had a domino night with the kids, their fathers, and grandfathers, where everyone came to play. This building is creating opportunities like that.”
The facility is also providing new opportunities for the Emmanuel Center to grow, while benefiting the community at large. Internet access was a common challenge in the Emmanuel Center’s previous facilities and, as part of the construction project, new fiber-optic internet cables were installed in the community that all residents can access. With additional, purpose-built space for ECE programming, the Emmanuel Center has been able to unlock additional revenue through the Head Start program by adding slots for students free-of-charge to their families. The facility is also the crown jewel in the Emmanuel Center’s teacher recruitment efforts, which Mann says is already paying dividends.
“It was difficult to get people to come and work in an old building that constantly had to be patched up,” she explains. “Now, I’m able to attract certified teachers because of our facility. That means the kids are getting high-level education and a good, quality experience that gets them ready for kindergarten. It’s been really amazing.”