On Monday, Accelerator for America, Drexel University’s Nowak Metro Finance Lab, the Economic Innovation Group and The Governance Project hosted a packed Opportunity Zone Investor Summit at Stanford. The Summit celebrated a milestone: over the past year, 27 cities have used a common template to design Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectuses to help communicate their assets and unveil projects that are investor ready and community enhancing. While cities have largely constituted the first wave of Prospectus adopters, the tool is already being applied at the metropolitan and neighborhood scales and could form a useful tool for states and rural counties.
On Monday, Accelerator for America and the Nowak Lab released a report entitled “The Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectus: Early Observations and Next Steps.”
The report, co-authored by Rick Jacobs, Aaron Thomas and myself makes five observations from these early efforts:
The Investment Prospectus has become a means for organizing disparate stakeholders in cities around common purpose. The evidence-driven nature of this tool enables public, private, civic and community leaders to get a collective “consensus on reality” and articulate locally-led visions for renewal and investment. No one sector is large enough, resourced sufficiently or empowered to do all that is necessary to realize the full economic and social potential of this tax incentive; this must be a product of network governance.
The Investment Prospectuses created to date represent a diverse cross-section of urban communities, by population size, market condition and region. Each of these disparate cities (stretching from Erie, Pennsylvania to San Jose, California) have used the Investment Prospectus to project its authentic self, grounded in hard evidence and local knowledge. The Investment Prospectuses for each city reveal highly distinctive economies with diverse histories and pathways for growth and investment, which yield different possibilities for public, private and civic investors.
The Investment Prospectuses share common typologies of Opportunity Zones, with similar spatial locations, market characteristics and competitive assets. This raises the intriguing prospect of grouping similar kinds of Zones into asset classes and investment sectors that can attract large amounts of place-focused capital in more effective, efficient and impactful ways.
Many Investment Prospectuses have “gone the last mile” and identified concrete projects that are both investor ready and community enhancing. The volume of investable projects ultimately enables the codification of prototypical deals and routine financing structures (e.g., workforce housing, commercial real estate, operating businesses that serve low-income neighborhoods, renewable energy), critical to ensuring that the Opportunity Zone market scales quickly and yields inclusive outcomes.
The Atlanta and Kansas City Investment Prospectuses both identify one such prototypical deal, which adheres to what Ross Baird and I call the “street corner” thesis. The “street corner” thesis focuses on creating a dense ecosystem of businesses, properties, and residences at strategic intersections or along strategic corridors of a community. Ross and I have written about this before, building on the successes of Shelby Park in Louisville: https://thephiladelphiacitizen.org/the-street-corner-answer/
The Investment Prospectuses have become a vehicle for mobilizing public, private and civic powers and resources in ways that can leverage the full economic and social impact of the Opportunity Zones incentive. The transactions that most cities seek to drive inclusive growth (e.g., investments in workforce housing and local businesses) will require a blended “capital stack” of debt, subsidy and equity. Cities will, therefore, need to align broader pools of public, private, civic capital and create new forms of innovative financing that can be captured, codified and transferred from city to city.
These early observations, in turn, inform the next stage of community action around Opportunity Zones. Five “next steps” are of critical importance.
The Investment Prospectus tool should be adopted by hundreds of communities, empowering cities to advance local priorities as well as exercise collective market power.
The Investment Prospectus tool, fully realized, should yield a major data dividendand reward cities that collect and marshal data in ways that unveil hidden market potential, catalyze private investment and drive inclusive growth.
The Investment Prospectus should drive a common methodology – a financing charrette – for public, private and civic practitioners to sit together and work through different financing scenarios for concrete deals that have the potential for transformative social impact.
The Investment Prospectus tool should drive a new system of community development that moves beyond the production and provision of affordable housing to include a focus on growing locally-owned businesses, equipping residents with the skills they need and building wealth.
The Investment Prospectus tool should enable broader health, energy and social outcomes for disadvantaged people and places.
The Investment Prospectus provides a new way for localities to think about their strengths rather than passively awaiting the market to decide how to deploy capital. We hope that these early observations and strategies for next steps helps communities make this new tool the norm rather than the exception.