Goosefoot, its mission moves to next phase

The recent refocusing of a Whidbey Island non-profit means new jobs and affordable new homes are on the way.

The mission of the Goosefoot Community Fund is not changing, but how it does business is. Funded through this year to the tune of millions of dollars by Langley philanthropist Nancy Nordhoff, Goosefoot has cut the purse strings and will now start to rely on income from its business ventures to do its work.

Linda Moore, executive director of the non-profit, said this week that with the completion of remodeling work on the 1920s-era Bayview Cash Store, as well as several other buildings and public spaces in the Bayview Corner business district near Langley, Goosefoot has accomplished its first mission. Now, it’s time for the organization — which is both committed to helping local businesses start and bringing more affordable housing to South Whidbey — to make it on its own.

This month, Nordhoff, Goosefoot’s president and financier, resigned her position and began to withdraw her funding commitment, a move she and Goosefoot planned when the organization was formed five years ago. As of January 2005, Goosefoot must sustain itself through the rents it charges merchants at Bayview Corner and on interest charged on the loans it issues. At the same time, it will focus on its continuing affordable housing goals and developing its non-conventional loan programs.

But it is the completion of its first major task that has brought Goosefoot the most notoriety. Five years ago, Goosefoot — backed financially by Nordhoff — purchased 22.4 acres of land at Bayview Corner, land that included the Cash Store, outdoor space rented by the South Whidbey Tilth Farmers Market, and undeveloped acreage owned by local property owners.

The Cash Store, which over the years has housed a general store, gas station and other businesses, was still home to a few shops in the late 1990s, but some of those businesses were in the process of closing, changing hands, or moving away from the building at the time it was purchased by Nordhoff.

To make the cash store and the corner a community business hub again, Goosefoot employees installed water and sewer into the property, beefed up parking areas, and began to rebuild the formerly one-story Cash Store into a two-story structure. Following construction practices perfected during an earlier restoration of an old Sears kit house on a nearby Goosefoot property, the non-profit’s construction crew used only recycled and sustainable building materials. The Cash Store project was complete by early summer of this year.

In terms of business growth, the Cash Store renovation has been a success, according to Linda Moore. Projected sales for the first year of operation for the 10 businesses at Bayview Corner — which include a grocery store, bike shop, art store, farm and garden supply, cafe, fish market, newspaper and gift shop — are expected to be $3.7 million. Those businesses employ 125 people.

Moore said this is a economic boon to South Whidbey, as those businesses and their employees are buying food, supplies and other items from other Whidbey Island businesses.

Goosefoot is also benefiting: Moore said positive cash flow from rents more than cover the the expenses of Goosefoot subsidiary, Bayview Corner, LLC. The extra money will be used in Goosefoot’s affordable housing programs, a community loan fund, and other new developments.

“We’re sort of entering our next phase,” she said.

More bang for the Goosefoot buck

Part of that phase has already been put into action. Moore said Goosefoot has loaned about $2.5 million to several Whidbey Island businesses and agencies, including Bayview Farm & Garden, and several other smaller businesses. Part of that amount, $1.2 million, was used by the Housing Authority as a bridge loan to purchase 15 low-income apartments in Langley. As of this month, the housing authority has paid almost all of the money back.

Over the past five years, Goosefoot has also moved eight single family homes scheduled for demolition to other sites for reuse. She said the average cost of moving the homes, putting them on foundations and bringing them up to habitation standards has been about $75,000, far less than the average selling price of homes on Whidbey Island. Goosefoot also worked with the families living in the homes to set up low-interest loans to finance remodeling.

Moore said Goosefoot is also developing some innovative financing for community business loans and house recycling projects. The terms of the financing could depend on the debt to equity ratio of a borrower or, in some cases, money may be given out as grants. The money will be targeted for land and equipment purchases, startup capital and other uses.

Because of Goosefoot’s non-profit status, it can issue loans several percentage points under standard lending rates. Moore said interest rates are tailored to borrowers.

Moore said the even though Goosefoot serves all of Whidbey Island, the focus of the its community loans will primarily target South Whidbey.

How to thrive after Nordhoff

To help Goosefoot become self-sustaining, four new members were appointed to organization’s the board directors last month.

Truman Castle, Mark Gappa, Bob Dalton and Judy Heinrich join Nordhoff, Fran Abel, Dave Ellis, Jim Halfaker, Rick Ingrasi and Donna Keeler on the Goosefoot board. They bring a backgrounds in law, construction, business and consulting to the non-profit.

“Their job is to craft the strategy for Goosefoot’s future,” Moore said.

That will happen at a board retreat the board is taking in October, she said. The board will decide particulars of the organization, such as when, how and where new development funded by Goosefoot will occur.

The Bayview Cash Store, however, will not get lost in all the reshuffling. Moore said Port Townsend resident Richard Castellano has been named the manager of the Bayview Corner. He assumes the position on Oct. 1 and will have an office on the second floor of the Bayview Cash Store.

He will be responsible for Cash Store programs and the facility, including maintenance, rentals and leasing.

Over the past five years, Goosefoot has also been a significant employer itself, running a construction and house moving crew, operating its own planning and design staff, and staffing its office. The non-profit has also hired a number of local contractors to do landscaping, paving and construction work.

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