In 2019, residents of the West Boulevard corridor, in partnership with the city of Charlotte, released a 108-page plan envisioning the kind of community they wanted. The plan, called the West Boulevard Corridor Playbook, prioritized economic development, transportation improvements, retail amenities, and improved visual appeal.
Now two years later, parts of the vision will become reality.
At West Boulevard and Remount Road, an intersection considered by some residents to be a gateway to their neighborhoods, the city will begin making infrastructure improvements. Among them: a decorative plaza, a multi-use path, bus shelters, pedestrian lighting, landscaping, crosswalks, wheelchair ramps and more.
The enhancements will be made under the city’s “Corridors of Opportunity” initiative — a multi-year effort to reverse decades of civic neglect in six predominately Black communities now plagued by crime and poverty. So far, the City Council has voted to spend $38.5 million to make improvements along the six corridors.
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Still unknown are many factors, including the total cost of the West Boulevard improvements and what the plan actually entails. But Lorna Allen, a senior planner with the city’s Urban Design Center, said community and public meetings will be held, starting this fall, to offer details and get residents’ input.
The official design process will begin in early 2022.
Allen said the West Boulevard improvements will reflect the corridor’s history and culture.
The work will be the latest in a series of investments the city has made at the West Boulevard/Remount Road intersection, she said.
Under one such investment, the city awarded more than $200,000 in matching grants so that business owners along the intersection, including Mr. Jim’s Pizza, could update their buildings and make security improvements.
When the latest work begins, the West Boulevard/Remount Road intersection will join the Beatties Ford Road/Lasalle Street area as one of two locations where the city has outlined an improvement plan and made a significant investment under its Corridors of Opportunity program.
For years, the West Boulevard/Remount Road intersection has been a focal point for crime, including assaults, shootings, and drug activity.
In early September, 18-year-old Johnny Edward Scott died after he was shot in the 1700 block of West Boulevard. A second man was injured in that shooting. Weeks later, the suspected shooter, 23-year-old Darvon Fletcher, was shot and killed before the police could make an arrest, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Sharon Howard, president of the Revolution Park Neighborhood Association, said that weeks before Scott was killed, she had complained to a community liaison police officer about loitering on the grounds of a recently closed restaurant, but the officer, she said, could not reach the property owner — a common occurrence that limits police action.
“The problem has been — and we’ve been fighting this for years — with the property owners,” Howard said. “The police can’t manage people’s property. The business owners have to have a buy-in as well and not just be out for a quick dollar. It can’t be a dollar over a life.”
Victoria Watlington, who represents the area on City Council, could not be reached due to council duties to discuss the city’s plans to address longstanding problems along the corridor.
In April, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte filed a forfeiture lawsuit against a strip mall near the West Boulevard/Remount Road intersection. In that lawsuit, federal authorities described the property as an “open-air drug market,” according to WBTV.
When contacted recently by a QCity Metro reporter, an official with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said that, as of Oct. 25, there had been “no resolution in the matter, and it’s proceeding through the litigation process.”
Before the feds got involved, West Boulevard community members had sought to address the problems accompanying the strip mall.
One of the strategies outlined in the West Boulevard Playbook is the proposed creation of a local merchants association, which would partner with community members to improve public safety and enhance the facade of their buildings. Residents believe this would improve the area’s marketability and attract more businesses.
“We are not there yet, but that is our goal,” said Ricky Hall, president of the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition.
While some historically Black communities in Charlotte’s have seen an uptick in public and private investment — most notably along West Trade Street and Beatties Ford Road — the movement has been slow for the West Boulevard corridor, but Hall said that’s changing.
He credits that change, in part, to grassroots community efforts, which started decades ago.
Earlier this month, researchers working with UNC Charlotte’s Office of Urban Research and Community Engagement outlined a proposal to address food insecurity along the corridor by creating a grocery store co-op at West Boulevard and Clanton Road.
Meanwhile, as plans take shape to make improvements along West Boulevard, Hall said community leaders are adamant that current residents not be displaced by gentrification.
The 19 neighborhoods that make up the West Boulevard corridor, he said, are particularly vulnerable.
“All you have to do is look at its relationship to Southend,” Hall said. “Look at its proximity to the central business district. Look at its strategic location to the airport, major highways, the planned Silver Line. And so now it’s become a hotbed for investment.”
Howard, who leads the Revolution Park Neighborhood Association, said that while the city’s investment under the Corridors of Opportunity initiative is a good start, it’s not enough.
“If the business owners care about the community they do business in, I can see the city’s investment making a difference,” she said. “But even with the changes, if the property owner allows loitering, that’s what you’re going to see.”