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Opportunities to shape future of West Boulevard corridor
Food sources, development and job prep in mix
Published Thursday, November 5, 2020 10:16 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Charlotte City Council representatives Larken Egleston (from left), Victoria Watlington, Mayor Vi Lyles and Malcolm Graham represented municipal government at a Thursday press conference announcing Corridors of Opportunity initiatives along the West Boulevard corridor.

Charlotte unveiled the next stage of its Corridors of Opportunity program today.

West Boulevard is the second of six corridors where city officials seek to address gaps in infrastructure, workforce, transportation, housing and code enforcement, business development, public safety and urban design. Corridors of Opportunity, a $24.5 million investment, kicked off in September with announcements for planned development along the Beatties Ford Road corridor. The others are Central Avenue/Albemarle, Freedom Drive/Wilkinson Boulevard, Graham Street/North Tryon Street, as well as Sugar Creek Road/Interstate 85.

District 3 council member Victoria Watlington, who represents the West Boulevard corridor, and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles addressed residents. They were accompanied by council members Larken Egleston (District 1) and Malcolm Graham (District 2), City Manager Marcus Jones and Assistant City Manager Tracy Dodson.

“If you’ve been here a while, you remember when [1520 West Blvd.] was a thriving shopping center, and it went through a little bit of a change, but what we are about is revitalization without gentrification,” Lyles said.

Watlington shared a number of projects in the works for the area, as well as financial commitments from the city to provide support for economic development. She also credited the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition’s advocacy for their community.

Among the projects is the establishment of the city’s first grocery co-op, Three Sisters Market.

“When we think about the Three Sisters Market, we know that not only do you need neighborhood support, you also need investment,” Watlington said. “Not only is the city working with the Three Sisters Market to find the perfect location for their proof of principle, we’re also committing $35,000 to support interior uplifts to the co-op market and the city will support the proof of concept phase for the next four years, at a total cost of $60,000.” 

For WBNC board member Guy Cousins, who chairs Three Sisters, the initiative is an opportunity the neighborhood needs to take advantage of.

“This is right in line with the work that we have been doing for 30-40 years almost in terms of the coalition itself, but this iteration has been working very hard to achieve opportunity for the residents,” said Cousins, founding partner of the Freedmen Law Group. “We consider ourselves to be the mouthpiece of the residents along the West Boulevard corridor – all 19 communities – and hope to live up to that in everything that we do. Opportunities like this, you can’t pass them by. We’re more than thankful for the city to take the steps that they have in terms of walking with us in the various initiatives that we have as the coalition.”

The city will also establish a multi-year commitment of $80,000 per year to the WBNC to develop the West Boulevard Merchant’s Association as well as expand on youth programing at the Seeds for Change Farm.

A commitment of $85,000 in grants will be provided to the City West Commons center for renovations and improved security. A public Wi-Fi hub will be established at City West Commons.

The city will also work with the new owners of the former Jack-in-the-Box at 1600 West Blvd. to renovate and reactive at site. A $30,000 grant will be established to improve Mr. Jim’s Pizza (1603 West Blvd.) the neighboring beauty salon and help the property owner fill the third retail space, which is currently vacant.

The West Side Community Land Trust will get  $249,000 in gifts between four donated parcels of land and funds to buy land for the relocation of two historic shotgun homes.
“If you want to have a seat at the table, you’ve got to have some ownership stake,” Watlington said. “The West Side Community Land Trust has been working very hard for several years to start to acquire property in an effort to ensure that we protect affordability across the city.”

The city will also conduct a labor study, which will include the corridor to understand barriers to employment as well as learn the skillsets of residents in the corridor in order to develop jobs that fit. Watlington said her district has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic in terms of unemployment.

“Many of our residents work in service industries, and are also essential workers,” she said. “What we’ve seen is unemployment rates in (ZIP code) 20208 spiking, despite being essential workers. Due to the flexibility in the service industry, labor rates and things of that nature, we’ve seen people being laid off. They are underemployed or unemployed. Getting them back to work is going to be critical.”

City representatives also unveiled the addition of the corridor to its #StreetEats program at City West Commons (1520 West Boulevard), which transforming parking spaces and sidewalks into outdoor eating spaces. The goal is to encourage people to support local restaurants, while maintaining a safe physical distance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two additions to the City West Commons center are Dee’s Vegan To-Go and Exposed Vegan. West Boulevard is considered a food desert, and until that changes, bringing in restaurants that serve healthy food is critical.

“It is so important that we continue to provide healthy food options and access to residents along the corridor, because right now we don’t have that,” Walington said. “We want to invest in people’s education and their economic mobility, but we also want to invest in their health. Part of doing that is partnering with healthy food options with business owners.”

#StreetEats runs through Nov. 22 at City West Commons. The space also includes a mural by Davidson College alumna Makayla Binter, who is a Hearst Teaching Fellow at Charlotte Country Day. Her work depicts the history of the neighborhood.

“I took some major imagery from the [history] and put it into a piece that is starting with the uplifting of the community, and how that blooms and fosters into new developments like the addition of the library, the YMCA and also building off of the fact that this land was bought by Charles Parker, and how his decedents ensured that this land would stay in the hands of Black people,” Binter said.

Zsa-Zsa Porter and Nikkis Campell are Ironman triathletes providing healthy food at Exposed Vegan (1540 West Boulevard). They also intend to serve the neighborhood through a food truck.

“We are very excited to provide healthy options to West Boulevard,” said Porter, who also works in corporate finance. “During the pandemic we recognized that there are so many who are looking for healthy options, especially if they are working from home, and they need to get fresh food or plant based food, and we are excited to provide those options, especially on West Boulevard. There are some low-income areas that we want to make sure that we give back to, and I’m excited—this is my first business—to give back to the community.”

Denise Hairston, who expects to open Dee’s Vegan To-Go (1540 West Blvd. Suite 100) by the end of November, has been a staple at the Charlotte Regional Farmer’s Market for years and previously owned a full-service restaurant in St. Louis. While she studied culinary arts at Johnson and Wales and Central Piedmont Community College, Hairston saw a lot of illnesses particularly among Black women based on what they were eating. Now she strives to provide delicious and nutritious food.

“When I used to work with the Women’s Health Network, I found that there were a lot of illnesses in the Black community, especially with African American women that are things that could be preventable,” Hairston said. “I had four women die in a five-year time period from chronic diseases. I started studying. I said there’s something to [what Black women are eating].”

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