Local & State
|Historic West End developer is big on building neglected community|
|Christopher Dennis positioned to revitalize corridor|
|Published Wednesday, March 10, 2021 6:00 pm|
|Christopher Dennis is leading revitalization of two properties in Historic West End, which is undergoing rapid gentrification.|
Dennis, owner and CEO of E-Fix Development Corp., a Black- and veteran-owned business, has been actively involved as a change agent and community leader in Charlotte for more than 20 years by redeveloping communities through commercial acquisitions. His latest project, the Corridors of Opportunity initiative in Historic West End, included buying two properties at Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street that will become commercial retail centers.
“I always tell people I’m a developer, but I wear a community hat,” said Dennis, a native of Sumter, South Carolina. “When people talk to me, the first thing that I’m going to talk about is community: how do we uplift, how do we drive, how do we empower communities?”
Corridors of Opportunity is a revitalization initiative led by the city of Charlotte with the goal of connecting residents to resources within the community. Through the project, community development focuses on ensuring the sustainability of businesses that can provide services and employment in its neighborhood.
Historic West End is one of six areas that was identified as optimal for the initiative.
“I think it’s important, as we begin to redevelop the corridor, that individuals with a link to the corridor” participate in the process, said City Council member Malcolm Graham, whose district includes Historic West End. “It’s history, it’s tradition. Be a part of the development opportunity and certainly Christopher Dennis represents that. …There’s an opportunity…to invest back in it.”
Dennis has sought to give back in a number of community leadership roles. He was president of the Lockwood community neighborhood association and founded the Lockwood Legends Arts Initiative as well as the NC Music Factory 5K Rock ‘N Run.
“I’ve always desired and encouraged economic and social equality for all the areas that I work in … and to appreciate the beauty of the place they call home,” he said. “My mantra is the hood is a state of mind, community is a state of life.”
It was Dennis’ development savvy and community leadership that made him an ideal candidate for the West End, qualities that J’Tanya Adams, founder and program director of Historic West End Partners, identified immediately.
“We had a relationship with the former [building] owner and saw a need for succession,” Adams said. “We knew that for this pilot to work, we needed to have strong representation and for someone who understood where we were going … and would be willing and strong enough to go through this process.”
Dennis is responsible for several residential properties in the Charlotte area and Adams says his work is at “optimal scale.” Acquisition of the West End properties expanded his professional portfolio into the commercial arena and allow him to expand his desire for community inclusivity. The West End development contracts contain clauses that ensure minority-owned and women-owned businesses are included.
Adams describes the West End initiative as a “test of faith” but remains excited about the outcome of the project. There are a number of challenges to face and having a strong partner is key.
“Having funds is not enough,” she said. “You have to have the spirit and the understanding and the relationship to execute … and Chris has it.”
Dennis approaches the project with three key pillars: Community engagement, small business development, and art infusion. They remind him that the initiative’s purpose is to empower and stabilize the neighborhood by providing jobs and opportunities for residents and small businesses as well as incorporate art that adds value and creates intentional dialogue about Historic West End and its history.
“As agents of change, we are excited to work with partners in re-imagining the West End Corridor as we create the vision and blueprint for the future,” Dennis said.
The culmination of those objectives is centered on two properties: 2023 Beatties Ford Road and 2020 Beatties Ford Road. These soon-to-be commercial retail centers will serve as hubs for community revitalization and engagement.
Two tenants, JPMorgan Chase, the anchor tenant for the 2023 Beatties Ford Road site, and BW Sweets, are confirmed.
Rodney Faulkner, principal of Boundary Street Advisors and commercial leasing broker for the West End properties, is tasked with sourcing tenants that fit needs and services the community requests while creating an inclusive environment.
“We’re trying to add some neighborhood services that we haven’t had on that side of town in a long time,” said Faulkner. … “Local tenants that have a strong brand, making sure we’re adding value to the community…to make it be more robust.
The centers are expected to be open for business by late summer.
“Chase has been a strong partner with helping people figure out to rebuild these urban centers and they want to put their money where their mouth is, which hopefully we can…get financial literacy and home ownership (classes),” Adams said.
BW Sweets, a Black-owned local business, will open its third Charlotte location at Site 1. More tenants and their locations will be announced later.
“We want to transform and progress [West End] without changing its cultural identity,” Adams said. “We’re not about gentrifying it. We’ll be inclusive, but we won’t gentrify it.”
Said Dennis: “I look forward to working with the city to solidify our partnership as we work to drive progress forward for the corridor. It’s been a long time coming.”
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