Charlotte’s changing west side

Charlotte’s changing west side

Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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A spotlight shines on Beatties Ford Road.

Zoom out: The corridor is rich in history, but for decades, public and private investment lagged. Now it’s picking up, which brings the promise of economic development, but also concerns surrounding gentrification.  

Driving the news: Five Points Plaza celebrated its grand opening over the weekend, highlighting the city’s $6 million investment, which includes a stage, swings, seating and a splashpad.

  • It also features public art by J. Stacy Utley entitled “Even Higher,” made of three metal panels featuring images of the historic Excelsior Club on Beatties Ford Road, Johnson C. Smith University’s Biddle Hall and Dorothy Counts integrating public schools in Charlotte.
  • It’s sibling piece, “Ever Upwards” sits on West Trade Street on the southwest side of I-77.  Together they are known as “Excelsior.
  • The new plaza also received $394,000 from the Knight Foundation for resident-driven programing over the next three years, and Johnson C. Smith alumna Jessica Macks will serve as the events director, a position funded by the Knight Foundation.

“Even Higher” includes three metal panels, highlighting images of the Excelsior Club, Biddle Hall and Dorothy Counts. Panels are 18-28 feet tall, one of which features a reflective finish to make viewers feel reflected in the piece. LED spotlights illuminate the work to create a torch at night. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Other neighborhood changes include refurbishing the building behind Five Points Plaza.

  • Dianna Ward is the majority owner of 1800 Rozzelles Ferry Road, which houses a Jet’s Pizza, owned by Todd Martinez and Rita’s Italian ice, owned by Johnson C. Smith graduates Melanie and Justin Powell.

Of note: On the other side of Five Points Plaza is M&F Bank, and a home once stood where its parking lot is today. Herman Counts Sr., a minister, raised four children there, and as Axios’ Michael Graff wrote, one of them would become civil rights legend Dorothy Counts.

Why it matters: Five Points Plaza is more than a refurbished space. It signals continued investment along the Beatties Ford Road corridor, an area historically lacking in public-private investment.

  • “Sometimes we forget how important our history is,” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said during the Five Points Plaza dedication. “And I think that’s one of the reasons we’re here today is that we’re not going to forget it in Charlotte any longer, how important our history is, especially something like this area.” 

Context: Corridors of Opportunity, the city’s $24.5 million investment in six areas, kicked off on Beatties Ford Road on Sept. 9, 2020.

  • It’s intended to address gaps in business development, infrastructure, workforce, transportation, housing and code enforcement, public safety and urban design. 
  • Other corridors include: West Boulevard, Central Avenue/Albemarle, Freedom Drive/Wilkinson Boulevard, Graham Street/North Tryon Street and Sugar Creek Road/Interstate 85.

Plus, last fall, Lyles kicked off a $250 million public-private initiative to address racial inequity by investing in Corridors of Opportunity and other steps, as Axios’ Danielle Chemtob reported.

  • But when Kimberly Henderson resigned in February due reports revealing she was the subject of a requested criminal investigation at her last job, controversy loomed large
  • Still, the Beatties Ford Road work carried on.

    State of play: The corridor looks different compared to Macks’ days at Johnson C. Smith in the 1990s.

    • The same could be said for Arts & Science Council President Krista Terrell or Charlotte City Council District 2 rep. Malcolm Graham, who also attended the university.
    • “There was a thought around town that the city didn’t really care about Beatties Ford Road,” Graham told Axios.

    Since Corridors of Opportunity kicked off, several projects are complete, have broken ground or are under construction, many of which are Black-owned and community led.

    • About a mile-and-a-half north of Five Points Plaza, E-Fix Development Corp, led by Christopher Dennis, is transforming 2020 and 2023 Beatties Ford Road. Chase Bank opened last fall at 2023 Beatties Ford Road, and BW Sweets, a Black-owned bakery, is in the buildout phase and targeting a mid-2022 opening.
    • Plus, Charlotte native Cheryse Terry is transforming her online store, Archive, into a brick-and-mortar coffee shop of the same name at 2023 Beatties Ford Road.

    What they’re saying: “In order to stave off gentrification, you have to make sure people who historically have been there have an opportunity to be a part of the change,” Graham told Axios.

    2023 Beatties Ford rendering courtesy E-Fix Development Corp

    Yes, but: The CityLYNX Gold Line streetcar’s second phase has been up and running since August, but it lacks reliability.

    Another hiccup is parking for two projects in Washington Heights.

    • William Hughes, a Charlotte native and corridor resident who owns land at the intersection of Beatties Ford Road and Oaklawn Avenue/Booker Avenue, facing a similar challenge along with the Excelsior Clubthey need more parking before they can move forward.
    rendering of CGE's project at Booker and Beatties Ford

    Rendering of Hughes’ project at Booker and Beatties Ford. Rendering courtesy City of Charlotte

    The conflict: Progress often comes at the price of displacing residents who lived in the neighborhood before it became the hot place to be. 

    • “I would like to see a comprehensive plan for our seniors who are currently in the neighborhood to be able to maintain their residence and keep their homes and keep their current quality of life with the increase and taxes and amenities and infrastructure,” Charlotte image activist Alvin C. Jacobs told Axios.
    • Jacobs added, “Historically, when things get better for some, they get worse for others, and if we’re paying attention to what’s going on in Charlotte, it gets worse for people who look like me.”
    • Homes in Biddleville around Five Points are going for $595,000, $800,00 and $825,000.

    What they’re saying: “At the turn of the 20th century, you saw African Americans participating in the booms of Charlotte, constructing neighborhoods around Biddleville, McCorey Heights and Washington Heights and, and eventually in the 1940s and 50s Oaklawn Park and Lincoln Heights and, and University Park,” Levine Museum of the New South staff historian and Charlotte native Willie Griffin told Axios.

    • Yet discriminatory real estate and banking policies prevented those neighborhoods from being able to take care of their homes the same way their white counterparts could in other parts of the city.
    • “Those houses were never refurbished because of redlining policies,” Griffin told Axios.

    The bottom line: Change will continue to spread across Charlotte’s west side, but the question remains: Can Charlotte learn from its history and create an inclusive future where residents help drive a neighborhood forward, or will those residents again be shoved out in the name of progress?

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