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Northside Development Group, Spartanburg, SC

Written by Ashauntee Jones and Ruth Thomas-Squance on May 25, 2022

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Sponsored by Purpose Built Communities, this case study is part of a series that highlights Purpose Built Communities’ members and their health partnerships.


This case study showcases the work of Northside Development Group (NDG), a Purpose Built Communities Network Member, whose mission is focused on holistic community redevelopment.  We explore the effectiveness of their compelling partnership with the Mary Black Foundation, a health conversion fund with a focus on investment in community health initiatives, which illustrates how direct investment coupled with centering community voice and ownership, can lead to a healthier community



Spartanburg is a city located in northern South Carolina. Northside is an area of approximately 400 acres located to the North West of downtown, once home to the sprawling Spartan Mills, the largest textile mill in South Carolina that dominated the social/economic landscape for almost a century. Still reflecting this industrial past with smokestacks and railroad tracks, the closure of the mill followed by years of disinvestments and ensuing rise in crime, led to population exodus and poor health outcomes for those remaining.

A collective of the Spartanburg Housing Authority and Mary Black Foundation first began working with the City Community Services Office and the police department to conceptualize approaches to the revitalization of the Northside. These revitalization efforts really took off when the Virginia based Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) announced that its campus would be located on the former Spartan Mills site. The announcement challenged partners to “pause and consider how much higher we could set the bar,” shares former Mayor and NDG Board Chair Bill Barnet.

The city understood that the success and future development of Spartanburg was inextricably linked to the revitalization of the Northside. VCOM, the Mary Black Foundation, and the City of Spartanburg led by the former Mayor of Spartanburg Bill Barnet, continued to engage other community institutions that also had an interest in the Northside. Bill Barnet reached out to Purpose Built Communities, amongst others, cultivating the partnerships and resources needed to achieve Northside’s goals.

Emerging from these conversations and partnerships, the Northside Development Group (NDG) was formed in 2011, with the goal of managing the redevelopment of the Northside community area through expansion of mixed-income housing, economic, educational, health, and social opportunities, key components of the Purpose Built model and approach to community development in under-invested communities.  Building off the experience in the redevelopment of Atlanta’s East Lake community, the restoration sparked a similar collective energy with the creation of the “Northside Initiative.”  Reminiscent of the experiences in East Lake, the newly created NDG was guided by Purpose Built Communities to operate as the Community Quarterback, aligning partners and resources around the redevelopment effort. The City of Spartanburg, Mary Black Foundation, Spartanburg Community Foundation, Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, Wofford College, the Voyagers (a resident leadership group engaged in community activism) and private citizens, are all stakeholders from sectors representing the main elements of the Purpose Built model, namely, mixed income housing, community wellness and a cradle to college education pipeline.


Partner Organizations:

The multi partner approach was instrumental in the success of NDG and the Northside Initiative, with partners providingnot just strategic elements but also financial capital and community strength. One unique element of NDG’s multiple partner structure was the inclusion of the Mary Black Foundation. The Foundation is a health conversion foundation (also known as health legacy foundations or hospital conversion foundations) which represents an important part of the philanthropic sector and consists of 306 foundations across 44 states with combined assets of $40 billion (as of 2018). Varying in their size and geographic reach, their focus has been on patient care and access to healthcare but increasingly they are addressing upstream investments that impact community conditions, influencing health. Often incorporated into the mission of healthcare conversion foundations is community development, housing, and advocacy, demonstrating their familiarity and value as a partner on  cross-sector issues in community development.

Mary Black Foundation has been a strategic partner since the inception of NDG providing support to NDG financially, strategically, and even with staff personnel. Founded in 1986, the Mary Black Foundation supported the Mary Black Memorial Hospital located in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In 1996 the hospital was sold to the Quorum Health Group, Inc. (a for-profit company) for $62 million and the foundation then separated and reconfigured its charitable mission with the $62 million as its corpus. The Mary Black Foundation has several focused initiatives in the Spartanburg region. In more recent years, two priority areas have emerged for the foundation, around early childhood development and healthy eating/active living as well as a community health fund.


Lessons Learned and Benefits to Working with a Healthcare Conversion Foundation (HCF partner):

  1. HCFs have the flexibility to provide either grants or loans to assist with multiple projects.
  2. HCFs have a broader approach to health and focus on social determinants of health, the community factors impacting health. This allows them to do more investment around housing, education, community development, compared to a regional hospital.
  3. HCFs, being private foundations, have increased flexibility, for example 95% of MBF’s funds are tied up in investments. MBF continues to increase funding through impact investing in hopes of seeing greater social returns. As partners look to bring on healthcare conversion foundations, think about how each partner can invest together.
  4. The Mary Black Foundation supports the mission of the Northside and provides performance measures to track how well investments are impacting the Northside.
  5. Compared to a regional hospital, some HCFs, such as the Mary Black Foundation, have a smaller geographic focus compared to the regional hospital resulting in more targeted interventions.


Addressing the Social Determinants of Health: 

NDG and Mary Black Foundation have worked together strategically to address many social determinants of health. The foundation has provided financial investment for various initiatives listed below that aim to impact different factors.

  • Housing: The Village at Creekside, Northside Station
  • Education: Franklin School
  • Wellness: Harvest Park, Hub City Farmers market
  • Built Environment: Butterfly Creek

Critical to the continuation of this effort is the two-phase development of Northside Station, an initiative that has brought in numerous additional partners. Taking inspiration from the Purpose Built model, NDG focuses on mixed-income housing, strong schools, community facilities and support services and a dedicated lead organization to drive the process of community development. “Purpose Built Communities is a valuable thought partner in this work”, shared Molly Talbot-Metz, the current President/CEO of the Mary Black foundation, “Spartanburg has benefited from the network of communities that are working to achieve similar goals around racial equity, economic mobility, and improved outcomes for children and families.”

Franklin School, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Additional projects and programs are also directly supported by the Mary Black Foundation in coordination with NDG.

Northside Station:

This multiphase project began with a first phase consisting of a $14.5 million mixed-use project consisting of two buildings. The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) has placed a teaching clinic in one building while the main building serves as a location for offices for the NDG, Access Health, and Birth Matters. Above these offices are 20 units of mixed-income apartments. The corner of the main building houses Wofford College’s Community Sustainability program. NDG employed New Market Tax Credits in this development.

Phase two is a $17 million mixed-income rental housing development with 90 apartment units, 81 being mixed affordable housing and 9 being market-rate housing. Mary Black Foundation has provided financial assistance through loans provided to NDG alongside assistance from other partners. The remaining financing was secured via Low Income Housing Tax Credits, federal HOME funds, and Rental Assistance Demonstration vouchers provided through Spartanburg Housing , along with traditional debt. Phase two was completed in summer of 2021 and is managed by the real estate management company NHE, Inc.

NDG worked closely with their partners to ensure:

  • The financial structure worked best for each partner
  • Communication was well established which alleviated any issues with delays and complications due to the pandemic.
  • The work of NDG and the partners involved will allow for longevity in affordable housing for their community.



Northside Development Group has now been successfully working in the Northside community for over a decade. Led by the former Mayor Bill Barnet, the NDG board has a clear mission that resonates with their community members. Being considered the most ambitious redevelopment effort in Spartanburg’s history, NDG continues to prevail, with CEO Michael Williamson at the helm, as it makes the necessary changes that will uplift this community and shift the trajectory for health equity.

Critical to their success and impact in the community has been their partnership with a healthcare conversion foundation partner, the Mary Black Foundation. This form of philanthropic backing together with critical consulting support from Purpose Built Communities and partnership with a range of community organizations, is a powerful example of a closepartnership implementing the Purpose Built model for community revitalization, establishing healthy programs, mixed-income housing, and high performing educational programs.