Urban Edge head resigning

David Taber

Non-profit developer considering merger as financial concerns linger

Mossik Hacobian, the high-profile longtime head of Urban Edge—one of two powerhouse non-profit developers in Jamaica Plain—plans to resign in 2011. JP resident and chair of Urban Edge’s board of directors Anne McKinnon sent out an e-mail notification last week announcing the formation of a committee to oversee the leadership transition at the non-profit.

Hacobian’s stepping down from Urban Edge leadership comes at a tumultuous time for the community development corporation (CDC). The non-profit has been struggling with major financial problems—tied to its participation in a complex, multi-developer plan to redevelop Jackson Square—for years. A 2007 restructuring effort resulted in Hacobian’s former executive director position being split into two jobs. Hacobian took on the role of president, and Chrystal Kornegay was promoted into a newly created CEO position.

Kornegay will remain at the head of the organization after the transition.

And Hacobian will likely stay involved. “I haven’t really wanted to make any plans until we know what the transition plan is,” he said in a recent interview. “I do expect to be active in the field [of non-profit development] and be involved with and supporting Urban Edge.”

Urban Edge is also in talks with other CDCs—including the Allston Brighton Community Development Corporation (ABCDC)—about increasing structural collaborations, possibly including a wholesale merger, McKinnon and others told the Gazette. [See sidebar.]

“This is very important. Urban Edge is committed to doing this well,” McKinnon said of the leadership transition process in a Gazette phone interview last week. “We are really looking at how the whole organization is structured…We are paying a lot of attention to working with funders. We are paying a lot of attention at the staff level. This is going to be done well.”

Hacobian has worked at Urban Edge throughout its 35-year existence and has been at the head of the organization since 1987. Urban Edge was founded to develop strategies to oppose redlining—the exclusion of racial minorities from certain neighborhood real estate markets—real estate speculation and the displacement of low- and moderate-income families from neighborhoods in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. Over the years, it has grown into a major real estate developer in its own right, developing and preserving over 1,360 units of housing. It also manages “1,340 units of affordable housing and 75,000 square feet of community facilities and commercial space,” according to its web site.

Urban Edge has also lent out over $2.4 million to local businesses, provided about that much for family home rehabilitation and de-leading assistance, and graduated 1,600 families from first-time homebuyer classes.

Throughout much of the CDC’s history, Hacobian has served as its high-profile, public leader and spokesperson. Some of his actions have been controversial, like advocacy for locally unpopular and ultimately unsuccessful plans to build a Kmart in Jackson Square in the late 1990s.

Kornegay said the organization will undoubtedly change. “What the future will look like, I don’t know. That’s the exciting part. Mossik is a large part of the organization, but he is not the organization. We have a staff of 21 people and a 30-person board all of us continue to shape the way this organization runs,” she said.

Right now, large questions loom about that future.
Financial strain

Working to right Urban Edge’s finances is a bigger project than the transition, McKinnon told the Gazette.

“We are still working on the financial issue, and will be for a while,” she said. “We still don’t have resolution with a number of lenders on where we are going…Jackson Square is a big project for us.”

Much about Urban Edge’s planned contribution to the multi-developer, multi-site redevelopment of Jackson Square remains up in the air.

Earlier this year, Urban Edge received city approval to build a major addition onto its Webb Building at 1542 Columbus Ave. in Jackson Square, adding 38-mixed income rental units on three upper floors and ground-floor community and commercial space to the current three story building that houses Urban Edge’s, and other non-profits’ offices. Urban Edge is still working to secure financing for the project.

The plan came after a number of setbacks for the developer. It has presented three plans for the site since January 2009, when the state Department of Youth Services backed out of a plan to move in as a long-term tenant. The site’s cramped geometry, and the developer’s failure to get the city to relocate a nearby salt shed continue to give Urban Edge trouble trying to site a permanent home for JP’s Kelly Rink there.

Urban Edge plans to propose building the rink at the front of the lot at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Ritchie Street, but that location is controversial, and the developer has not formally put the proposal forward for city approval.

In 2008, the Gazette reported, based on internal documents it had obtained, that Urban Edge had undergone a major restructuring plan in 2007 after two years of operating losses totaling more than $1.75 million.

At a January 2009 meeting of the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), Kornegay said she was concerned that Urban Edge’s property at 1542 Columbus could get foreclosed on.

Urban Edge was able to refinance, but it has a lot riding on Jackson Square. Expected returns from the Jackson Square development project are part of the CDC’s recovery strategy, according to the 2007 restructuring documents.

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