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A skyline that sprouts new buildings at a dizzying pace. Neighborhoods dotted with new breweries and renovated mills. Thousands of new apartments springing up beside light rail lines. The signs of Charlotte’s booming prosperity are everywhere. But that prosperity isn’t spread evenly. And from Charlotte’s “corridors of opportunity,” it can seem a long way off, more like a distant promise than the city’s reality.

Community organizations ramp up revitalization efforts for West Boulevard corridor

West Blvd - Charis Blackmon.jpg
Elvis Menayese
Charis Blackmon, executive director of the West Side Community Land Trust, stands on the 4.5-acre site purchased by the land trust on West Boulevard.

This week, we continue profiling six Charlotte areas in our ongoing series “In Focus: Corridors of Opportunity.” These are historically overlooked neighborhoods that the city has included in the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative to revitalize with millions of dollars in new public investments.

Today, we’re bringing you to Charlotte’s West Boulevard corridor, where the city connected with community organizations to identify the crucial needs of the residents. Some shared goals focus on providing resources like fresh foods, affordable housing and improving infrastructure for public safety.

West of uptown Charlotte, the West Boulevard corridor stretches for about seven miles from South Tryon Street to Interstate 485 near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. There are a few convenience stores in the area, surrounded by a mix of old and new houses along tree-lined streets. Rickey Hall, board chair of the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition, said the demographics are changing, but West Boulevard remains an African American part of Charlotte.

“Roughly more than 80% of the corridor consists of African Americans,” Hall said. “With a growing Hispanic, Latino community as well as a diverse population of others, including white families moving in, we’re just becoming a very diverse corridor.”

About12% of the residents here are Hispanic or Latino, and close to 6% are white. Even as change creeps in, some longstanding problems remain. One issue that’s hung over the West Boulevard corridor for decades is that it is considered a food desert. There are no full-service grocery stores. Residents have few options for healthy food choices nearby. They can either make do with food from local convenience stores or travel about four miles for fresh, nutritious groceries. Guy Cousins, a West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition board member, said this has been a problem for decades.

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The City of Charlotte
The area of interest for the city falls between Remount Road and Billy Graham Parkway.

“For 40-plus years, there has not been a full-service grocery store for the residents of the corridor for approximately that amount of time,” Cousins said.

Off Clanton Road and West Boulevard, there’s a large “Coming Soon” sign for a two-story co-op grocery store. Hall said the co-op will help combat another issue in the community.

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Elvis Menayese
A “Coming Soon” for the co-op grocery store is planted off Clanton Road and West Boulevard.

“When you look at the West Boulevard corridor, you’ll see a high rate of high blood pressure, diabetes, all those negative types of health markers,” Hall said.

To help combat some of those health issues, Denise Hairston offers healthy food options that cater to a specific clientele. Hairston opened “Dee’s Vegan To-Go” shop three years ago. Before that, she worked at Charlotte Regional Farmers Market.

“All my customers there used to beg me every single week, ‘please open up a store where I can come every single day,’ and a lot of my customers were from this area,” Hairston said.

Construction is underway for affordable housing in west Charlotte

Helping longtime residents remain in this area is another objective in the West Boulevard corridor. Charis Blackmon, executive director of the West Side Community Land Trust, said affordable housing is a priority.

“Our mission is to create permanently affordable housing with community-centered development in west Charlotte and beyond, ultimately creating staying power for longtime residents who are facing displacement,” Blackmon said.

Next to Christian Mission Baptist Church on West Boulevard, construction is underway on a 4.5-acre site purchased by the West Side Community Land Trust with the support of local partners. The $31 million project broke ground last year to provide 120 affordable housing units for senior citizens.

 “There will be a combination of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, and the rents will start as low as $414 per month. This will be specifically for individuals that are aged 55-plus,” Blackmon said.

To qualify, the applicant’s yearly income must be roughly $19,000 to slightly over $60,000. The complex is set to be completed in the spring of next year.

Nineteen neighborhoods make up the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition. Blackmon said it’s vital that input from those residents help shape the corridor’s revitalization.

 “As we continue to see our neighborhoods redeveloped, as we continue to move forward with progress and growth, we must ensure that we are not leaving behind the residents that are such a core component of what makes our city great,” said Blackmon.

A top priority is improving public safety along the corridor

One of the long-term goals is to improve road safety by widening sidewalks and adding bike routes along the corridor. It’s about a six-minute walk from the apartment construction site on West Boulevard to the Charlotte Mecklenburg West Boulevard Library. The sidewalks are narrow, traffic flows by fast and there are no bike lanes. There’s an obvious contrast a couple of miles away on East Boulevard, in wealthier neighborhoods. There, the city spent millions to slow traffic, add bike lanes, and put in expanded pedestrian crossings. Pushing his bike up a slight hill on West Boulevard’s narrow walkway was Abdulla Rashid. He’s originally from Greenville, North Carolina, but has lived in Charlotte for the past 10 years.

“It’s difficult crossing the street, and they’re only concerned about the rich section of Charlotte. They aren’t concerned about the middle-class or poor people section,” Rashid said.

 Abdulla Rashid pushed his bike up a slight hill before cycling away on West Boulevard on Jan. 23, 2023.
Elvis Menayese
Abdulla Rashid pushed his bike up a slight hill before cycling away on West Boulevard on Jan. 23, 2023.

Meg Fencil is the director of engagement and impact for Sustain Charlotte, a nonprofit that inspires choices that lead to equitable and vibrant communities. She said the corridor can’t be considered a walkable neighborhood just yet.

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Elvis Menayese
Near the crosswalk by the library was Meg Fencil on West Boulevard Road on Jan. 18, 2023.

 “It's definitely improving, and it's now safer to cross at a number of points due to those improved intersections and the pedestrian crossing beacons,” Fencil said. “But the area still needs a lot of investment to become truly walkable. It needs more businesses. So, a walk needs to be safe, useful, and inviting.”

There are some hopeful signs to point to. A crosswalk was added by the library in 2021 and another new crosswalk was completed near the Stratford Richardson YMCA last year.

The West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition will meet virtually on Feb. 7, at 6 p.m. The coalition will announce its new executive director, Sharika Comfort, and provide an update on the co-op grocery store. Residents will also have an opportunity to voice their concerns.

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Elvis Menayese is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race and equity for WFAE. He previously was a member of the Queens University News Service. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.