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The Voice of the Black Community


JCSU goes beyond gates for West End development
Arts facility first step in revitalizing Beatties Ford Road corridor
Published Friday, December 11, 2009 1:08 pm
by Herbert L. White

Johnson C. Smith University is going beyond its gates to revitalize the Beatties Ford Road corridor.

Johnson C. Smith groundbreaking ceremony

Thursday’s groundbreaking of its new visual and performing arts center marks JCSU’s foray into expanding the campus beyond its traditional bounds. The long-range plan is for the arts center to move permanently next door to the current West End Market site with student housing as well as a convocation center for JCSU basketball, concerts and conferences.

“When I look at this, I will see the (proposed) streetcar running by, all of the vacant space will be built up where there will be affordable housing for folks who are working in the new economy, it will be a cultural arts center,” JCSU President Ronald Carter said.  “This will be known as the center for jazz, it will be known for the urban university that has a mission in terms of community as well as the city. It’s going to be a vibrant place. It will be a Georgetown with our own cultural ambiance. It is going to be a point of destination.”
Renovations to the 14,000 square foot Griffin Brothers Tire building are expected to be complete by next spring. The Griffin site was built in 1956 and is leased to JCSU.

West Trade and Beatties Ford Road – called Historic West End by corridor boosters – has undergone moderate change in the past decade, primarily the development of middle-class housing and the University Park Shopping Center. JCSU’s expansion plans, however, aims to make the West End more of a destination point.

“No man is an island and we’re all in this village together and I think this is just the economic engine we need along the West Trade-Beatties Ford Road corridor and Historic West End,” said Mattie Marshall, president of the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association. “It’s an opportunity for the city of Charlotte as a whole to close the gap and connect itself to resources and social capital that we have in Historic West End. Naturally, it’s going to fill that hope and confidence in our children and families and improve educational arenas in our area, improve the job creation areas and our economic vitality as a whole for the good of the whole.”

JCSU’s campaign mirrors a growing national trend of urban campuses using their economic and academic muscle to revitalize surrounding neighborhoods. Hampton University in Virginia and Howard University in Washington, D.C., for example, have led development in their communities by recruiting new business and housing to spark an influx of middle-class families.

“It’s an excellent model,” said Malcolm Graham, JCSU’s special assistant to the president for government and community relations. “We know it works for them, we believe it can work for us, and it’s that type of project in its size and scope that I believe really provides the catalyst necessary to bring major development to the Beatties Ford Road corridor.”

An artist’s rendering of Johnson C. Smith University’s new visual and performing arts center. The 14,000 square foot Griffin Brothers Tire Sales building on West Trade Street  will be converted into studios, classrooms and a theatre as JCSU takes a more aggressive approach to revitalizing Historic West End.

The Visual and Performing Arts Center – which corresponds with the launch of new curriculum – includes a black box theatre, dance studio, computer labs, dark room and video production. The facility is part of a long-range plan to forge tighter bonds between JCSU and its neighbors through the arts.

“That means we have to be engaged in the community,” Graham said. “(Carter has) sent a clear message he wants us to be focused on the community and what we’re doing. We’re coming from behind the gate.”

JCSU is also raising its profile by developing the area through an arts program along Interstate 277 and Carter chairs a committee lobbying to bring trolley service to the area. Initial engineering on the streetcar has already started.

Campus leaders are also heavily involved with Center City Partners’ 2020 plan to develop the urban core with community input. The study area includes Uptown, South End and neighborhoods just beyond the I-277 loop.

“This move …is the first physical move of the fulfillment of (Carter’s) vision, and we’re excited by it,” said Michael Smith, president Center City Partners.

“This neighborhood is fortunate to be anchored by that great university. It’s a complement to other things like the market opening; other redevelopment that’s being considered. It’s in a mixed-use environment and this is another important component. But it’s also important because it takes the academics outside the gate and brings it across the street and blends it even more with the neighborhood.”

That relationship benefits West End, JCSU and Charlotte as a whole through new jobs and development, Carter said.

“We are not taking ownership as much as we are forming strategic partnerships with the various neighborhood and community development corporations, with the city, with all the people who share the vision in terms of what the West End ought to be for the city of Charlotte,” he said. “Charlotte cannot be the Queen City of the South until we can be one of the crown jewels. We’re basically claiming our rightful place.”


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