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North Omaha center opens, aims to boost African American ownership of businesses and homes

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The Black-owned enterprise Carver Legacy Center opened for business Monday in a historic savings and loan building at 24th and Lake Streets in North Omaha.

More than 75 people watched as the two couples who founded and own the Carver Legacy Center cut a ceremonial ribbon Monday on the building they’ve renovated at 2416 Lake St. The couples — Willie and Yolanda Barney, and Martin and Lynnell Williams — also had a soft opening for three businesses that will operate there.

The first businesses to open were the Carver Business HUB, the Revive Omaha Store and Carver Legacy Financial Services. The store will sell products and services of local Black-owned businesses.

The HUB will connect Black-owned businesses to networking and business development resources and education with a number of partners, including the Williams’ DreamBusiness firm. The HUB will be the new home of the Barneys’ Revive Black Business Network.

And Carver Legacy Financial Services is a joint venture with American National Bank that offers business and home loans. Plans call for a full-service bank branch eventually.

The enterprises are located in the historic Carver Savings and Loan Building, where the first Black-owned financial institution in Omaha opened in the 1940s.

A community celebration and open house is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. People can visit, shop, open a Carver Legacy Account, sign up for classes and learn about other services.

The Revive Store will be open from noon to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays. Currently, products and services from nine businesses are offered there, including popcorn, inspirational and Christian gifts, hand-made candles, biscotti, children’s clothing and shoes that are custom-designed in Omaha and made in Italy.

The HUB and Carver Legacy Financial Services generally will be open by appointment only. However, they’ll be open this Tuesday from noon to 5 p.m. and this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

People can get more information and connect with the Carver Legacy Center enterprises on the website www.carverlegacycenter.com.

Willie Barney said the openings this week represent the second of three phases for the center, which aims to help African Americans in North Omaha and throughout the city build wealth through owning businesses and homes.

The first phase took place in 2020. The Barneys and Williamses acquired the Carver Building and began renovating it. American National Bank, led by executive co-chairs John and Wende Kotouc, began offering Carver Legacy Accounts to give people a way to invest in African American businesses and North Omaha. Deposits in those Carver accounts are being committed to African American community development, including businesses, individual home purchases and home construction, as well as for-profit and nonprofit real estate development, John Kotouc said.

On Monday, Barney said deposits in Carver accounts have grown to $9 million in the 18 months since the Carver Legacy Center was announced. He said about $1.5 million in loans have been made.

The couples had hoped to open the center sooner. They decided to do more extensive renovations than originally planned. They’ve been working on their systems and processes, Barney said, but also have been busy working with more than 100 businesses on various aspects of growing or starting up.

There was a festive atmosphere Monday outside the center as many elected officials joined businesspeople and community leaders for the ribbon-cutting and tours. Nebraska State Sen. Terrell McKinney, whose district includes North Omaha, said the center will help shift focus to economics and wealth building in the area.

“It’ll go a long way for the North Omaha community, to build up some economic empowerment for residents down here,” he said. “So we can decrease the amount of poverty that’s here, be able to support each other and do great things in this area.”

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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