A coalition of West Boulevard neighbors have developed a plan to meet immediate needs for food and jobs and to spark more change.
Known as “Seeds for Change,” the five-year project hopes to improve health through community gardens and a co-op grocery store, educate through an aquaponics lab and cooking classes, offer job training and bring the community together.
Altogether, the plan will support the 11,000 underserved people who live in the West Boulevard corridor, leaders say.
Phase I includes breaking ground on a first greenhouse and community garden and creating a feasibility study for a co-op grocery store.
Phase II would create “Aqueous One”: a learning lab with classrooms, a business incubator, and a community training kitchen. It would also expand on the programs in the first phase.
Finally, Phase III would construct the co-op grocery.
Altogether, the plan would cost about $5.5 million.
The project will be at the intersection of West Boulevard and Clanton Road.
It’s close to the Stratford Richardson YMCA and right across the street from the West Boulevard library. It’s at the entrance to the Arbor Glen neighborhood, an affordable housing development built by the Charlotte Housing Authority.
The CHA donated about 3.5 acres there in 1997 to help attract a grocery store. No progress has been made in nearly 20 years.
The grocery store is the biggest part.
And it’s a huge need. This part of town is known as a “food desert,” where the only real options for food in the area are convenience stores and Family Dollar locations.
The closest full-service grocery store that someone would have the possibility of walking to is the new Publix in South End … a 45+ minute walk away.
Rickey Hall, who leads the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, said access to healthy food options is a huge issue.
“If you ask people door to door, block to block, house to house, what are one of their needs — they will tell you we need a grocery store in the West Boulevard corridor,” he said. “It has long been a dream.”
But economic development is another huge part.
This grocery store and garden area will immediately make the corridor more attractive from an economic standpoint. But there’s also the potential for jobs.
Over time, the neighborhood group hopes to establish supply chain relationships between the community gardens and aquaponics labs and local restaurants and businesses. This could support a whole network of job training and apprenticeships, Hall said.
They’ll also bring in students at nearby Harding High, Reid Park Academy and other schools for STEM-based programs.
An all-star lineup of civic groups is on board alongside the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalaition — including Habitat for Humanity (which is running point), Shook Kelly and UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute. The city, county and school system are also wrapped in.
Wells Fargo has committed $75,000 as seed money for the first phase, estimated at $815,000. Habitat will work on raising more money. One of the first big community meetings to get more neighborhood input is scheduled for Tuesday night.
“I think it will be overwhelmingly well-received,” Hall said. “It’s an idea whose time has come.”