More organizations and agencies are warming to the idea of a "nonprofit mall" serving the Northland area, according to Joyce Bourgault, chairwoman of the Northland Alliance.

More organizations and agencies are warming to the idea of a "nonprofit mall" serving the Northland area, according to Joyce Bourgault, chairwoman of the Northland Alliance.

"Having a central location made sense," she said last week, speaking at the eighth Nonprofit Summit convened by the community and business organization.

Bourgault went on to say that what was initially envisioned as requiring 30,000 to 40,000 square feet of space would have to be at least 80,000 square feet to accommodate the needs of all the entities that have expressed interest in participating.

"This idea is growing very rapidly," Bourgault said at the gathering in the Haimerl Center on Morse Road.

Such a "mall" would help identify gaps in services that are needed and would help make more residents who need the assistance of nonprofit agencies aware of their existence, she indicated.

"People don't know that we're here; they don't know what the resources are," Bourgault said. "Everyone says this is a tremendous idea."

Now comes the hard part, she added: Figuring out how to turn the vision into reality.

"It's not an easy project ... yet with creativity and a lot of interest from a lot of groups, it's a very real possibility," Bourgault said.

She said such a center might include its own restaurant as a training center where people could learn how to run a business. Another possibility would be having a garden and greenhouse on site where vegetables could be grown for the restaurant. Solar panels might help reduce the cost of utilities.

"A lot of the push for nonprofits now is to be more self-sufficient," Bourgault said.

However, funding either renovation of an existing structure or building a new one would almost certainly require a major capital campaign on the part of all the agencies and organizations that might want to be included in the center, she added. And, Bourgault said, space should probably be set aside for additional organizations not yet operating in the Northland area.

"We're not closing it off to what's already here," she said. "We're keeping it open to what's going to help us grow."

Bourgault is also executive director of the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center free clinic.

Recently, she noted, Helping Hands has been experimenting with inviting other organizations to participate in clinic gatherings, such as offering classes on healthy eating, improving financial literacy and helping patients with job searches.

"There's a lot of potential," Bourgault said.

The time is ripe, she added, for obtaining commitments from organizations that definitely want in on the ground floor of a nonprofit mall.

"We're ready to start a business plan," Bourgault said.

Other groups in the area have done similar co-locating efforts, and the Fund for Financial Innovation at the Columbus Foundation has helped pay for developing business plans for them, according to Bourgault. While the grants of between $30,000 and $40,000 may not be used for capital projects, they could help set the stage for eventual construction of a Northland project.

"We're thinking that the best location would be centrally on Morse Road or along Karl Road," Bourgault said. "Think of how much this means, not just for Northland but the idea and the creativity around it. That's immense."

Jerry Jones of the Service Corps of Retired Executives also addressed the nonprofit representatives on what it would take to develop a successful plan for creating the proposed center.

"I really like the idea of your organizations all working together," Jones said.

However, he added, whether the decision is to rent an existing structure or build a new one, the funding will have to come from somewhere.

"You can't do that on hope," Jones said. "You have to look at it as if it was a business: Money comes in, money goes out."