The intersection of Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street in west Charlotte is home to numerous small businesses and homes where residents deal with a lot of crime. Last summer was especially difficult when three teenagers were charged with murder in the shooting death of a 17-year-old girl during an alleged robbery. But it’s also in the midst of a revitalization effort with help from UrbanMain, a national group that helps cities restore older and historic neighborhood commercial districts.
Longtime resident and business owner Bernetta Powell is helping as a member of the corridor’s business advisory board. So is Kevin Dick, Charlotte’s assistant director of economic development. WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn, host of “All Things Considered” spoke to them at the intersection about their dreams for giving the area a more main street feel.
Kevin Dick: It’s based upon a four-point approach. One point is organization, galvanizing and mobilizing communities to really work to revitalize it. Economic vitality is another point. How do we make sure that we’ve got a strong business climate that’s great for new businesses to come in and maybe occupy vacant storefronts, but also for existing businesses and making sure that the climate is good for them to thrive and attract customers?
Another point is promotion. Promote this area showing people from other neighborhoods throughout the city, suburbs and so forth that this is a great destination place, a great place to gather, it is a great place to come shop. And then finally, design. How do we make it aesthetically pleasing? Improve the way facades look, improved the way the area looks in terms of artwork and murals and so forth.
Gwendolyn Glenn: So why did you choose the Beatties Ford/LaSalle area as an area to try to turn into a revitalized main street?
Dick: There’s just a lot of built-in assets. West Charlotte High School, Northwest School of the Arts, Johnson C. Smith University down the street Mechanics and Farmer’s Bank, Atrium Health to draw people in and around the area so there are assets we can build upon.
Glenn: Bernetta, did you guys approach the city about doing this?
Dick: This was like a joint effort. UrbanMain is a community approach to revitalization. So it is not we’re going to give you what we think you want, but you get to help to decide what you want and what you need in this area.
Glenn: And what have you guys decided that you would like to see here?
Powell: We’re going through meetings now.
Glenn: What are you hearing so far from people?
Powell: They want some improvements facade wise. They like the police presence that we have already. And so those are the types of things that we’re hearing right now.
Dick: We want to make the area more of a gathering place. More of a place where you can have kind of pop up events that will attract people to the area and really improve the business climate so that there’ll be more potential shoppers. We want a stronger business mix, such as a sit-down restaurant. I think one specific thing is really making it very appealing to entrepreneurs, creating the ability to have affordable commercial space. There’s a lot of discussion in Charlotte and rightfully so about the lack of affordable housing. There’s also a lack of affordable commercial space.
Glenn: Now, you’re talking about aesthetics. How will that be funded?
Dick: So right now we have business matching grant programs that enable business owners to apply for grants to improve their facades, improve their signage and so forth. This UrbanMain district is in an opportunity zone, which is an emerging federal program to attract private investment. And so that will allow private investment to come in and really work on the real estate, but also potentially invest in small businesses.
Glenn: And when you hear about the Main Street project, what do you think beyond advice that they can give you to make this happen?
Powell: I think they can help us formulate a plan, not just advice, but the approach. How we do things. So I think they really help us set a plan in motion by using their model.
Glenn: Are any people a little concerned that you see many other areas in the city that have been revitalized and people look at it as gentrification, such as the Cherry neighborhood and some other neighborhoods? Are people having any concerns that they will be pushed out as this neighborhood is revitalized?
Powell: I’m sure there’s some people that may think that way and rightly so because of what they have seen in other areas, but also with us having communication. I think that they can realize we could stay here, we can stay and build rather than being pushed out.
Glenn: Bernetta, do you have places or spots in this area that you consider historic or landmarks in this area that you want to ensure that they are preserved?
Powell: Of course, West End Fresh Seafood Market. It was Queen City Drug Store. It has been there since 1960.
Glenn: African American owned?
Powell: Yes. The Rudean building, which is African American owned, like to see that stay, too.
Glenn: So what kind of time frame are we talking about where people will actually see some of these things come to fruition?
Dick: You know, perhaps some facade improvements, those things can happen in the near term future.
Powell: We’ve got to lay the plan out, make sure it’s approved by the city and everything. But I’m hoping the first of the year you’ll be like, oh, this is what they have been up to. This is UrbanMain.
Glenn: Okay. Thank you both.
Dick: Thank you.
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