Christopher Dennis came to Charlotte from a small town for opportunities. Now he’s creating them.
What’s happening: Change is underway at Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street, with the transformation of 2020 and 2023 Beatties Ford Road, two commercial properties owned by Dennis’ E-Fix Development Corp.
- 2023 Beatties Ford Road’s anchor tenant, Chase bank, opened on Nov. 4, 2021.
- BW Sweets, a Black-owned bakery, is also confirmed as a 2023 Beatties Ford Road tenant.
- A coffee shop and a fitness studio, which Dennis declined to name, will be the two other tenants.
Why it matters: Historically Black neighborhoods Lincoln Heights, Oaklawn, Washington Heights and University Park meet at the prominent intersection. It’s an area rich in history, but investment from the public and private sectors has lagged for decades.
But with any area’s development comes fear of gentrification and ultimately the displacement of longtime residents. Dennis, a Sumter, South Carolina native, said he intends to do the opposite.
- He has been working along the corridor for nearly a decade and now with the city’s Corridors of Opportunity program.
- “People might not realize I’ve been on the corridor working for a little over eight years in housing, and providing some of the same services that helped dynamically change the North End Corridor,” said Dennis, who moved to Lockwood in 2010 and served as a community leader over the last decade. “I was doing that on the Beatties Ford Road corridor behind the scenes.”
Context: Malcolm Graham, the city councilman whose district covers the area, said Dennis’ project deserved its own day of celebration when the city kicked off Corridors of Opportunity on Sept. 9, 2020.
- It marked the beginning of the city’s $24.5 million investment in six areas, which also include: West Boulevard, Central Avenue/Albemarle, Freedom Drive/Wilkinson Boulevard, Graham Street/North Tryon Street and Sugar Creek Road/Interstate 85.
- It’s designed to address gaps in infrastructure, business development, workforce, transportation, housing and code enforcement, public safety and urban design.
- Corridors of Opportunity has critics, who feel the city is more talk than action when it comes to working with communities they seek to change.
Yes but: Historic West End Partners founder and program director J’Tanya Adams told me Dennis’ projects bring opportunities for economic development, rather than community displacement. The work is “of the community, for the community, by the community,” Adams said.
- She said she is “not aware of any hard feelings about the transition of those two buildings,” and the only time she hears of any “angst” is when people assume someone outside of the community, as far as location or culture, is behind the project.
- “Then the assumption is an outsider is doing it, and they’re doing it without us in mind, and that’s not the case,” she said of the E-Fix projects.
Groundbreaking for 2020 Beatties Ford Road is scheduled for the end of the first quarter of this year.
- Full site development is expected in late fall 2022, with both sites up and running by then.
- Dennis said the second site will feature a nail salon, juice bar and a bigger tenant.
- “Every building in that intersection is very important to lifting that eight-block area of LaSalle and the commercial district,” Adams said.
E-Fix worked with Uhwarrie Capital Corp, Towne Bank, Grubb Properties and the city on funding support to acquire the properties in 2020 and 2021.
Big picture: Beatties Ford Road is the Main Street equivalent for Historic West End, seeing significant pedestrian traffic, and improving that section is key to revitalizing the corridor.
- “When I think of Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street, I think of it as the west side’s Trade and Tryon Street,” Graham told me.
- “We’re trying to really make sure that we’re not only preparing the intersection for business and commerce, but that we’re making sure that it’s safe for everyone and there’s a safe environment to do that type of commerce and that’s why there’s a heavy focus on changing that corner from a hotspot where crime used to exist to a hotspot for economic opportunities,” Graham said.
Flashback: Dennis got into real estate to provide affordable housing through E-Fix Housing Solutions.
- He said he wanted to change communities by providing renovated properties to low-income communities, to help stabilize them.
- Dennis also experienced commercial gentrification, after being pushed out of City North Business Center where he operated E-Fix Housing Solutions and Community Dream Builders in 2019, along with over 100 other businesses, many of which were Black-owned.
Separately, Dennis also served as vice president of market data operations at Bank of America, worked as an IT implementation specialist at First Union, spent 22 years in the Air Force National Guard and founded nonprofit Community Dream Builders.
Bonus: 2020 Beatties Ford Road also includes a mural by Charlotte artist Georgie Nakima, who goes by Garden of Journey, as part of the Milestone Initiative, a collaboration between DC Comics and Ally.
- The initiative focuses on highlighting Black creatives.
- Dennis intends to expand arts opportunities in Historic West End, focusing on financial literacy for artists and access to space to show their work.