There’s the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” After more than 30 years working to transform East Liberty, we can safely say that the same concept holds true for raising up a neighborhood. At ELDI, we have been fortunate to establish strong relationships with partners across a wide range of sectors to help realize the community’s vision of a vibrant, mixed-income community. From long-time residents to non-profits to government agencies to developers, the list is long. But one key category of partner that we definitely couldn’t have done it without were the banks who loaned us some of the funds for big developments and projects.

One of those banks is WesBanco. We have worked with them since 2008 to make some of the most instrumental projects in East Liberty a reality, including the Eastside developments, our scattered site development strategy, and more. We sat down with Michael O’Donnell, vice president of commercial lending at WesBanco, to discuss their role in East Liberty’s transformation and why they had faith in ELDI early on.

Michael O’Donnell, vice president of commercial lending at WesBanco.

When did you first start working with ELDI?

I started working for WesBanco in 2013 after WesBanco purchased Fidelity Savings. I came from National City/PNC. When I started here, I began working with ELDI as one of my relationships.

What was East Liberty like then?

East Liberty was being developed on the commercial and retail side and ELDI had started acquiring residential land and dilapidated houses in the early 2000s. When I took over the relationship, it was growing, and we were fortunate to be part of that growth.

Why was WesBanco willing to lend to ELDI, especially in the beginning?

Like all other banks, WesBanco is always looking to help communities provide services to its residents and businesses. ELDI was a strong relationship WesBanco acquired from the Fidelity Savings acquisition. Additionally, we purchased another savings bank (ESB) which also had a relationship with ELDI. So, it was a natural fit for WesBanco to continue working with them in their community.

ELDI also had a strong model and organization that proved to be successful and had been in the community for 30 years at that time. We were always looking for ways to grow that relationship and found an appropriate banking vehicle to fit their needs.

What did that banking vehicle allow ELDI to achieve in the neighborhood?

ELDI was able to purchase land and blighted properties until they had a pool of addresses to combine into a construction loan. Say there were 10 properties, we would do a construction loan for those 10 properties, set aside the funds to complete them, and then ELDI would either rent or sell them. Whatever they sold them for, they’d then pay back to us to use for the next one. East Liberty began taking off around that time, in the early 2000s. Target came in and Walnut Capital developed some projects, so there were a lot of things going on that were making it a destination—to the point that people wanted to move there. It was just a good place to be, and it still is. If there are other nonprofits in the city that we are considering working with, we look at how they compare to ELDI. I use them as a measuring stick.

What do you think about the transformations East Liberty’s undergone and WesBanco’s role in those changes?

I grew up in this area, and I drove through East Liberty a lot when I went to CMU—and it was dangerous. You rode through there with your head down low and didn’t want to stop at any stop signs or red lights. Now it has become a destination point for families and businesses. I think it has been an amazing transformation from the early 1980s until today. The community is vibrant, and it’s really impressive to see what they did. ELDI had a lot to do with that.

I feel WesBanco has helped with that transformation by providing some of the funding to the community. We have also worked closely with ELDI and provide volunteer assistance (I sit on East Liberty’s real estate investment committee.) as much as possible to keep the transformation moving forward.

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