Stephanie Swepson-Twitty: Visionary with Patience

| By Bonnie Schell, MA |

Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, President and CEO of Eagle Market Street Development Corporation (EMSDC), can look down The Block from her office at 700 S. Market St. in the South Pack Square Community Center. Completed in 1999, the Community Center is in the middle of what the City of Asheville in 1994 designated as a “blighted area” as a result of urban renewal and the development of Pack Square and a parking deck. EMSDC’s mission is to develop minority-owned businesses, train and empower a workforce, as well as develop property to re-build a vibrant commercial and cultural community on Eagle and Market Streets, called by its original name, “The Block.” With 30 years’ experience in banking, retail, and finance, Stephanie became CEO in December, 2008.

Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, President and CEO of Eagle Market Street Development Corporation (EMSDC)

Stephanie Swepson-Twitty, President and CEO of Eagle Market Street Development Corporation (EMSDC)

Is it true that you worked for two years with EMSDC as an AmeriCorps intern?

Yes. I was running Stevie’s Originals on Eagle St., a soapstone and home décor shop, when I met Elizabeth Russell who enticed me to come to Eagle Market Street as an AmeriCorps intern. I finished my Bachelor of Science in Management at Montreat University.

What was your first job out of high school?

After 12 years of school, I wanted nothing more to do with it. Besides I was rebellious and hard-headed. So I got a job as a billing clerk for United Merchant in McDowell County. It was awful.

What did you learn from your banking, financial, and retail management experience?

I had all kinds of interactions with people, everyday a surprise. I learned about fiscal responsibility, being concerned for both sides of the ledger. Given a good product and responsive ownership, I have learned that successful retail depends on foot traffic and being in a destination hub of other businesses citizens like.

What kinds of businesses would you like to see on the blocks of Eagle and Market?

First, we are renovating and preserving the facades of three historic buildings – the boarded up Dr Collette Building (down the street from Limones traditional Mexican cuisine), the Del Cardo and the Ritz. Our Rock is the YMI at 39 S. Market, the oldest African American cultural center in the country. Next to YMI is Block off Biltmore, a vegan restaurant and showcase for poetry and music and a popular meeting place for non-profit events. We need a Brewery with an underground Cannery, farm-to-table restaurants (and let’s have a little fat back with those greens!), fresh food market, a cyber café, small shops, possibly a jazz supper club. We already have Smooth Barber Shop, massage therapy, and Penny Cup.

My vision for future EMSDC endeavors includes building out our Commercial Real Estate Management product, scaling our Block-by-Block Industries and continuing our IDA (Individual Development Account) for budding entrepreneurs.

What will be in Eagle Market Place when it is finished?

Eagle Market Street Development Corporation will move to the third floor of Eagle Market Place. The second floor will be an anchor tenant, Mountain Housing and a city or county department. The street floor might be an insurance company, a new business support entity (something like Mountain Biz Works), an underwriter, and reception area. AB Tech’s Western Women’s Business Center, now on the Enka campus, is another possibility.

Tell me about the housing component of the project. I understand an independent market study found that there are over 2,200 families or individuals who work within one mile of the Eagle Market Place site. They earn less than $40,000 a year in wages or salary.

This is an 11.1 million dollar mixed-use development. The project includes 62 affordable/workforce apartments, all handicapped accessible, with retail on the street level. They will be managed by Mountain Housing Opportunities. The rents will run from $200 to $800 for one to three bedroom units.

I find it interesting that ESMDC has a for-profit arm. Will you explain how that works?

Most not-for-profits can, if they keep grant writing, get funding for projects, but not for operating expenses. Nonprofits also need a reserve. A for-profit enterprise that fits the mission of the non- profit can provide operating expenses. This is a hybrid management design.

Our enterprise is called Block by Block, a commercial sewing facility. It makes its own goods to sell such as sewing of soft goods, textiles, leather and prototype design/development work. Block by Block would like to do more contract work of goods business owners might now be ordering from China or India. The quality is better and there is no need to deal with import paperwork. Block by Block has three full-time and seven part-time employees.

Do you get discouraged? Impatient with how long a project takes?

Yes, I get discouraged with all the red tape and length of time funding takes, but we have had federal, state, county, local police, the faith community, and private support. I am impatient with waiting. On the other hand, somedays I feel like Life is dragging me instead of me leading it. But Jesus said, according to Luke, “To whom much is given, much is required.” As a North Carolina native in the ideal job for my gifts, I spend a lot of my time being involved in the community. We are all in this work together. I love what I do!

You are Chair of YMICC, Secretary of The Support Center, Board director of the NC Association of the Community Development Corporation, Advisory Board Member of the Self Help Credit Union and actively involved with Mountain Housing Opportunities, Inc. Do you have a family?

Yes, I have the wonderful support of my husband, Paul; one son, Paul Jason; an 82-year-old mother; a close sister, in addition to three grandchildren. And we have a docile cocoa-colored Pit Bull named Shellie. We live in Old Fort, NC. Except for unusual circumstances, when I am home, I am home. When I am at church, I am listening to my Lord. I learned, by the way, about organization from the Missionary Baptist Church.

Stephanie, do you think you are still hard-headed?

Not so much hard-headed anymore as tenacious. I just refuse to give up when I believe in the cause and the benefit of that cause.

I won’t put up with bickering or incivility. I insist on bringing intellect to bear on problem solving. I’m tired of talking about solutions for poverty and homelessness. It’s time for action that causes a more equitable and inclusive economy. We need to model the change we want to see.

For more information about EMSDC or to donate your time, talent or treasure, contact Stephanie Twitty at (828) 281-1227 or [email protected]

Bonnie’s poetry and short stories have appeared in Knuts House Press Insanity Edition, Quarry West 35/36, Poets & Writers of the Monterey Bay, Cream City Review, Porter Gulch Review, WNC Woman, Chinquapin 9 & 15, DeKalb Literary Arts Journal, The Well Versed Reader, Flash Fiction: When Genres Collide, and in Coast Lines: Eight Santa Cruz Poets. Bonnie lives in Asheville and can be reached at [email protected].

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