New community center offers hope to struggling Westside neighborhoods

For the past few years, Westside Works, a job placement and career education organization founded by the Arthur Blank Foundation, has operated out of an old school and several trailers in the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.

On Monday, the group took the wraps off a brand new 12,000-square-foot building at 261 Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard that will bring those efforts under one roof and serve as a community center for the area.

“We are never leaving these communities,” Blank said, eliciting a standing ovation at the grand opening ceremony. “This is not a $15 million project and, when we’re finished, we are gone. It’s a forever commitment.”

Blank and the foundation committed to investing $15 million in the community more than three years ago during negotiations to build the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium about a mile or so down the street from the new Westside Works headquarters.

So far, the foundation has invested about $10 million for various projects, including building costs, hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and low-interest or no-interest loans to community groups and job training programs.

Foundation officials say about 350 people have found jobs making on average around $12 an hour through Westside Works and hundreds more are getting training in construction, technology, healthcare and food and beverage.

But the neighborhoods, dominated by empty buildings and blighted properties, did not have a lot to show physically for the work being done, officials said. The construction of the building, which boosters said would be equally at home in Buckhead or Midtown, offers evidence that progress is being made.

“This is an inviting space for the entire community,” said Javier Garcia, property development manager for builder Quest Community Development Organization.

Other buildings are on the way. Westside Works will construct an administration building next to its new headquarters, and Quest plans to launch a capital campaign in 2017 to raise $12 million to build a new resource center on land one block away at the intersection of Lowery and Joseph E. Boone Boulevard.

Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Young, who represents the area, thanked Blank for his efforts to help revitalize the neighborhoods.

“The community has been waiting a long time for this to happen,” he said. “Mr. Blank, I’m eternally grateful.”

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