DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- There's a multi-million dollar effort to build a more racially equitable shopping mall. It's a new program announced this week by the owners of the Streets at Southpoint in Durham. Brookfield Properties is pledging over $20 million to grow Black and minority businesses at its malls across the southeast.
The sprawling mall on sits on Durham's southern end in one of the most diverse cities in the state. But, amid the racial reckoning that came after George Floyd's murder, Brookfield began working on a plan to ensure the city's only large mall looked more like the shoppers who shop there.
"We're willing to invest up to $25 million over the next five years," said Michele Isabel, Brookfield's regional vice-president of business development about the big check her company is writing in the name of diversifying the shopping experience at Southpoint and its shopping centers across the southeast.
The company is calling the program, Partner to Empower. It began accepting applications this week for Black and minority business owners.
"The goal here is to address and break down the systemic racial barriers that members of our community face," Isabel added.
The company aims to attract entrepreneurs, budding business owners or just folks with a dream. Part of the program includes retail workshops: one-on-one help from industry insiders, bankers, accountants and marketing experts.
And then there's the funding. Brookfield's $25 million investment could mean thousands for a small business in need of seed money.
"So our goal is not to just get them open, our goal is to make sure that they open and that they're sustainable," Isabel said. "This program did start with the problems we face in our community and the racial wealth gap being so wide."
Durham's racial wealth gap is stark. One-fifth of residents live in poverty -- most of them Black and Brown. And Northgate Mall, once a safe haven for minority-owned businesses, closed permanently in 2020, leaving owners scrambling.
"We can't do it by ourselves. It takes a village," said Kayla Walker one of the partners behind Black Friday Flea Market in downtown Raleigh. In six months, the store has gone from a pop-up shop showcasing the wares of black-owned businesses to a permanent fixture.
Walker and her co-partner Jasmine Bullock spoke to ABC 11 about the value of a program like the one getting underway at Southpoint. They agreed more help is needed from the ground up to navigate the complexities of the retail industry.
"Inventory, knowing how to market yourself, labeling products to make sure it's sufficient -- all of it is necessary," Bullock said. "And I just don't think coming in we realized how necessary it is."
Brookfield is spending big money on a big challenge. Isabel is entering the first round of funding with humility about the task.
"We won't solve the total problem. But it's definitely a start," she said. "We want to give minority and Black-owned businesses a place to call their own."
The application process is now open for the Partner to Empower program. The deadline is June 18.