June 24, 2023 -- Today, Mayor Turner, local elected officials, the Acres Homes Community, public/private sector community partners and more gathered to celebrate two major milestones today, the completion of Phase 1 and the start of Phase 2 of the re-imagined and revitalized former Bethune Academy campus, now known as the Bethune Empowerment Center (BEC).
Speakers included District B Council Member Tarsha Jackson, Congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee (D-18), Lone Star College Chancellor Dr. Stephen C. Head, HBDI President and CEO Marlon Mitchell and CenterPoint Community Relations Director Alicia Dixon.
The center, once complete will serve as a business incubator and vocational training hub for the Acres Homes community and the newest north side addition to a nexus of innovation centers in the City of Houston, including the East End Maker Hub, the Ion in Midtown and adjacent to Third Ward and the Cannon on the west side.
The ambitious concept for the Bethune Empowerment Center originated from the Acres Homes Complete Community Action Plan, where the community expressed a strong need to repurpose and revitalize Bethune Academy.
Aldine ISD Board of Trustees and the City of Houston listened to the resident’s vision and formed a partnership through a cooperative lease agreement, which evolved into a private-public partnership when some of the City’s generous corporate citizens stepped forward to also invest in the center.
“You asked for this as part of my Complete Communities initiative, and we are now well on the way to seeing this vision come to fruition,” said Mayor Turner. “ The Bethune Empowerment Center represents so much more than brick and mortar. It is a testament to what collaboration, support, commitment, dedication, resiliency, and public, private and community partnerships can achieve.”
The City of Houston contributed $4 million community development block grant funds (CDBG) to begin the renovations at the center and an additional $1.5 million in CDBG funds for Phase 2.
Phase 1 involved the renovation of three existing buildings, including the administrative offices, a classroom, a community event space, the purchase of a new electric control panel and a computer lab, generously funded by AT&T.
“AT&T’s support of the Bethune Empowerment Center and our investment in building another Connected Learning Center here in Houston reflect our commitment to helping bridge the digital divide and making an impact in the communities we serve,” said Tanya Makany-Rivera, Director of External and Legislative Affairs, AT&T-Texas. “Once open, the Connected Learning Center will help equip Acres Homes area youth, families, and seniors with the resources they need to strengthen digital literacy skills, apply for jobs, access healthcare and so much more.”
Sponsors Reliant, North Houston Pole Line Company, and Amerigroup/Anthem also played a vital role in helping bring Phase 1 across the finish line, with Reliant providing a $500,000 donation.
“We’re thrilled residents can now enjoy the new classroom and community event space at the Bethune Empowerment Center,’ said Elizabeth Killinger, president of Reliant. “Reliant has had a longtime commitment to supporting the Acres Home community and has been committed to this project from the beginning. We were happy to support the phase one renovations. We look forward to seeing the positive impact the BEC will have on this historic neighborhood.”
North Houston Pole Line Supplier Diversity Director Denise Wallace, echoes those sentiments. “Today’s event was spectacular. North Houston Pole Line is proud to be a partner and sponsor for the Bethune Empowerment Center. We are forever grateful to be a part of this amazing community.”
Phase 2 which will begin on Monday, will include the renovation of four additional buildings, encompassing a commercial kitchen, a workforce development training center with electric vehicle charging stations in partnership with Lone Star College, a community garden, and a childcare facility.
Congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee (D-18) secured $2 million in HUD funding for Phase 2 for the Bethune Empowerment Center.
“This is just the latest example of the importance of direct federal funding to communities. I was pleased to champion, and work with my Colleagues in the House to provide $3 million dollars in funding to the Complete Communities initiative through a Community Project Funding request made by the City of Houston to restore the Bethune Empowerment Center as a place of historic and social significance.”
CenterPoint Energy provided the lead private donation of $1 million to fast-track the Phase 2 renovations.
“CenterPoint Energy is committed to making a positive difference in the lives of our neighbors,’ said Alicia Dixon, Director of Community Relations for CenterPoint Energy. “We are proud to make investments such as this one that will provide Acres Homes residents with access to job training, apprenticeships, skills-building services, small business resources, and co-working spaces in a professional environment close to their homes.”
Houston Business Development, Inc. is the developer, manager and operator for the center, Key HTX is the general contractor and Moody Nolan is the architectural firm.
While the center will not be completed until Phase 3, the BEC has already welcomed its first tenants, Lone Star College, and Communities for Better Health and that is a reason to celebrate.
“This Center is a commitment to the betterment of the Acres Homes Community,” said Mayor Turner. “It is a beacon of hope and progress, a testimony to the power of revitalization, a catalyst for more public-private partnerships, and a reminder that Complete Communities will NOT be forgotten or left behind now or in the future.”