AKRON, Ohio — Professional sports stars often use their prominence to influence public opinion and advocate change, including in real estate development. One standout is LeBron James, the Los Angeles Lakers forward and four-time National Basketball Association champion.
In Akron, Mr. James is building a model for advancing education and social assistance in the West Market Street neighborhood, where he was raised. A new school, three residential buildings and a sports-and-entertainment complex represent more than $20 million in investment by the LeBron James Family Foundation and its partners.
In building projects that serve the public interest, Mr. James has joined an expanding movement of developers around the country who mix new ingredients into the formula for socially responsible development. The term was initially defined by advances in design like energy efficiency, environmental safety and affordability. Developers now construct buildings and neighborhoods that make those assets and others — health care, recreation, good schools, safe streets — accessible to residents in neglected communities.
led the campaign to keep the Sacramento Kings in California’s capital. He worked closely with Vivek Ranadive, the team’s majority owner, to build a $500 million arena that is the centerpiece of the $1 billion mixed-use Downtown Commons, which turned empty central city blocks into an active center of entertainment.
missed 83 days of school in the fourth grade. That challenge, and others he faced as an underprivileged child, inform and guide the foundation’s development decisions.
“When we started this work in education with my foundation, we never dreamed we’d be owning buildings and developing new properties,” Mr. James said in an email. “As we dug deeper into the work, we learned what it takes to create real, visible change. And that’s listening to what our community needs and then rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.”
The foundation’s latest and largest project is the $2.875 million it paid in December to buy the Tangier, an entertainment and events center in Akron. Renovation of the 60,000-square-foot building, renamed House 330, started in January and is expected to be completed next year.
The project will provide training and jobs for students interested in careers in food service, hospitality, management, maintenance, finance and other professions. It is also the first to develop a revenue stream for the foundation’s work, said Michele Campbell, executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation.