Residents fear city investment will gentrify Beatties Ford Road

Residents fear city investment will gentrify Beatties Ford Road

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Roger Parham, the managing member of Steel Skin, LLC addresses attendees of a press conference discussing the projects and opportunities along the Beatties Ford Road corridor in Charlotte, NC on Wednesday, September 9, 2020.

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When city leaders publicly launched their new “opportunity corridor” initiative to revitalize six key areas across Charlotte, they did so on Beatties Ford Road, highlighting a historic hub of the Black community that’s also lacked investment for decades.

Officials shared an ambitious vision Wednesday for business redevelopment, improved transportation and safer communities, which they say can be achieved with help from a $24.5 million city investment in those corridors.

Even as city leaders said they will fight for the community’s success without the gentrification and displacement that often comes with new development, some in the community say they’re still skeptical.

City council member Malcolm Graham, who represents the area, lauded the effort and said the city wants to “make sure residents are a part of the change and not victims of it.”

“We’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Graham said.

But as community members watch other west Charlotte neighborhoods gentrify, some fear it’s inevitable without more accountability and community input.

“I like the idea of it,” activist Gemini Boyd said of the city’s investment efforts. “But transparency is more important.”

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(L-R) Police Chief Johnny Jennings, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and City Council member Malcolm Graham are among the attendees of a press conference discussing the projects and opportunities along the Beatties Ford Road corridor in Charlotte, NC on Wednesday, September 9, 2020. Jeff Siner [email protected]

Corridors of Opportunity

Graham led the launch at a barren lot at 2506 Beatties Ford Rd. The lot, on the corner of Gilbert Street across from a branch library, was purchased this week by Roger and Claudette Parham of RC Ventures.

It’s not clear what their plans are for the site, formerly the home of the Dalebrook Professional Center, but Parham said it would be in line with the initiative’s goal of revitalizing and strengthening the community.

“This is too great of a historic site to let it sit vacant for the last six years as it has,” he told The Observer.

Parham said he’ll work with the city, business community and residents for “the highest and best use of this site…to meet our three principles, which are job creation, small business development and building spaces that can bring essential services to the corridor.”

The city’s current budget earmarked $24.5 million for its Corridors of Opportunity initiative in six areas the city seeks to revitalize. In addition to the Beatties Ford and Rozzelles Ferry corridor, those areas include West Boulevard, Central Avenue and Albemarle Road, and Graham and North Tryon streets.

About $500,000 of that money is to be allocated for crime prevention, including pilot programs in those corridors that work directly with community leaders to combat crime, city leaders said in May.

They also plan to work with code enforcement and neighbors to bring violations into compliance.

City leaders say those efforts can help draw investors like RC Ventures.

Graham said several projects in the community — renovations under the Interstate 77 underpass and creating a park near Johnson C. Smith University — are already underway, and some will be done by year’s end.

‘We are doing something different’

City leaders acknowledged the challenge to get community trust.

But City Manager Marcus Jones said this project is different from others that have been conducted on Beatties Ford Road — he promised results.

“It’s easy for us to come out today with pictures and videos and with plans and promises and then those of you who have been in this community for more than a day or two will say, ‘What’s different?’ ” Jones said at Wednesday’s announcement. “Our commitment to you is we are doing something different this time.”

Mayor Vi Lyles recognized the work of activists and advocates in the area, as well as Charles Billings, the father of Jamaa Cassell, one of the four victims of the Beatties Ford mass shooting in June that killed four people.

“We have not forgotten what that means. We have not forgotten your son,” she said. “This project and the commitment to develop this site is a part of the change we want to see happen.”

Police Chief Johnny Jennings also spoke at the event, and said Beatties Ford residents care about their safety and have a right to “not be victimized in their own neighborhood.” He added that he knows it takes more than a strong police presence to improve safety in a community.

Though hundreds were there the night of the Juneteenth shooting, no witnesses have come forward, which some Beatties Ford residents say is due to the police’s poor relationship with the community. Jennings implored residents to provide police with information about the shooting.

“We want to see more people come forward to help us with the investigation, but we know we have to work hard and be better as a police department to make sure we bring justice for the family of those victims,” he said. “We want to know how we can better serve this corridor.”

But after the event ended, Billings asked where the police were on the night of the shooting.

The celebrations “happened up here for three days without a permit in the middle of a busy intersection, and the police department is right down the street,” he said in an interview. “Talking is cheap.”

‘Fight tooth and nail’

While some Charlotteans lauded on social media the city’s efforts to develop the area, others wondered why more community members weren’t invited to the project announcement.

Boyd, who was raised in Charlotte and lived in the Beatties Ford area, said the community wasn’t included in the city’s planning of the project. He believes officials’ intentions aren’t genuine, especially in light of the mass shooting in June.

“Every time there’s violence or corruption, it gives them an excuse to come through and gentrify the area,” he said. “How will this strengthen the Black community here? It won’t even exist.”

Joel Odom, who ran against Lyles in 2019, said he only learned about the announcement after watching Tuesday’s city council meeting. He attended and tried to ask questions, but officials only answered questions from the media.

“You keep saying you want the community engaged and be a part of this great development, but you’re not informing your community about it. You’re being transparent with the developers, but you’re not being transparent with the little guy,” Odom said. “That’s what all the tension is about.”

Local organizer Kendrick Cunningham fears that the development will lead to gentrification along Beatties Ford, which he said he believes will be especially devastating to the strong Black culture in the community.

The area that the city plans to develop includes “The Block” where many of the Charlotte’s Black residents shop, socialize and eat.

“Any project that goes in that part of Beatties Ford should prompt recreational activities and allow Black people to convene,” he said. “I think the heart of this project is stripping the community so the city doesn’t have to deal with crime anymore.”

The city could have avoided backlash from the community, Alesha Brown said, if it had included community members early on. She said the development has to be done with the community in mind and mentioned areas of Beatties Ford already being gentrified, including those near Johnson C. Smith.

“You have to know who your community members are so the impact isn’t negative,” she said. “I don’t understand how you can have a press conference about the community and have it be private.”

Brown, who serves as executive director of the community advocacy organization For The Struggle and lives in University Park near Beatties Ford Road, said that while she’s nervous about the impact this development could have on the community, she knows organizers will “fight tooth and nail” to preserve it.

“This is our Black Mecca,” she said. “It’s not going to be that easy.”

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Charlotte city leaders gathered on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 to hold a press conference discussing the projects and opportunities along the Beatties Ford Road corridor in Charlotte, NC. Jeff Siner [email protected]

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