Since its beginnings in 1991, Durham’s The Scrap Exchange has promoted creativity, environmental awareness, and community through reuse. The nonprofit has called several spaces home over the years, from a donated space in Northgate Mall to former tobacco warehouse in the Central Park District to Golden Belt and now its home in the Lakewood Shopping Center. As The Scrap Exchange grew and adapted over the years, Durham was changing, too: an influx of new businesses and residents were driving up housing costs, raising concerns about gentrification and a loss of the history and character that make Durham so special.
Ann May Woodward, Executive Director of The Scrap Exchange, saw these changes up close as she witnessed Lakewood Shopping Center wane from a thriving retail center to an underutilized property at risk for re-development by firms looking to simply turn a profit. Ann had a vision for transforming Lakewood while also fulfilling The Scrap Exchange’s unique mission to promote creativity, environmental awareness, and community—a Reuse Arts District. The district would be a one-of–a-kind destination with makerspace and shops, art studios, galleries and artist marketplaces, gardens, a sculpture park, architectural salvage operations, affordable housing, a shipping container mall, and more.
The Scrap Exchange took its first step towards this vision in December 2013 when it purchased the abandoned Center Theater in the Lakewood Shopping Center, moving into the renovated space in October 2014. Less than two years later, nearly 85,000 square feet of commercial space became available across the parking lot from The Scrap Exchange—this space presented a tremendous opportunity to transform the shopping center into a true reuse arts district. Yet, The Scrap Exchange didn’t have the capacity to get traditional bank financing for the purchase. It turned instead to Initiative and Initiative Capital, the Initiative’s CDFI lending arm. Months of close collaboration on pre-development and project planning led to a $2,500,000 bridge loan that enabled The Scrap Exchange to acquire, stabilize, and redevelop the property. A subsequent loan from the Self Help Ventures Fund served to provide additional financing and repay the Initiative Capital loan in full. Woodward describes the opportunity to acquire the 85,000-square-foot commercial space as The Scrap Exchange’s effort to counter the threat of developers with unlimited resources coming in and tearing apart the history of Lakewood. The Scrap Exchange’s community-centered and visionary approach for expansion was honored by local Independent Weekly in 2016.
Now, in 2018, The Scrap Exchange is realizing its vision of stewarding the Lakewood Shopping Center into a hive of culture and creativity that honors and serves the surrounding neighborhood. Project Manager Doreen Sanfelici describes The Scrap Exchange approach as one of buffering against gentrification by providing a mix of services, art, and retail for the immediate and broader neighborhoods. Indeed, the 105,000-square foot campus includes a thrift store, a RAD (Reuse Arts District) Lab; El Centro Hispano; El Futuro, The Durham Community Food Pantry, operated by the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh; and Freeman’s Creative.
Dr. Luke Smith, founder and executive director of El Futuro, shares the importance of having the health services nonprofit in the “epicenter” the Latino community it serves. While the Latino community is spread in pockets throughout Durham, this location at The Scrap Exchange campus is within a half-mile of the median point of that collection of communities, thus increasing access for Latino families in need of mental health and substance abuse services. He sees being a part of a campus that includes El Centro Hispano and The Durham Community Food Pantry as a catalyst for the organizations to interact more regularly and provide more holistic services to families. Being within walking distance of one another means “the sky’s the limit with what we can accomplish together.”