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Charlotte’s West End Convening for Opportunity

The Richmond Fed’s Community Development team convened community members from the Historic West End of Charlotte, North Carolina on May 3-4 to discuss their vision for their Opportunity Zone. Photo: Community Development.

By Elizabeth Duda and Laura Fortunato

The Historic West End of Charlotte, North Carolina, is home to some of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. Ongoing efforts to improve economic mobility and increase the affordable housing supply in Charlotte are bringing new energy and opportunity to this community, which could face rapid change.

With this in mind, the Richmond Fed’s Community Development team convened community members on May 3–4 to discuss their vision for their Opportunity Zone, a low-income census track in which investors may accrue tax benefits for funding community economic development. Local residents, small business owners, church leaders and educators came together with interested developers, nonprofits, government agencies, elected officials and Charlotte City staff to attend the program. Richmond Fed event partners included the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), Knight Foundation, the City of Charlotte, West End resident leaders, CGE Venture Group, Historic West End Partnership and Johnson C. Smith University.

Jeanne Milliken Bonds of the Richmond Fed’s Community Development team explained the Bank’s role in convening a topical discussion such as this one and the relevance to our mission. Support for economic growth is consistent with the Federal Reserve mandate of maximum employment, she said, and “our Community Development function works to mobilize ideas and opportunities that address challenges in low- and moderate-income and underserved communities throughout the Richmond Fed’s region.” The region includes Maryland, Washington, D.C., North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and most of West Virginia. “This [Opportunity Zone designation] is another tool we can use in the community development toolbox to build access to healthy options, workforce development, lending and access to credit,” Bonds said.

The program discussions drew ideas from Qualified Opportunity Funds, including Arctaris, a social impact fund; 1787 Capital; funds established by Grubb Properties and The Sherbert Group; and from global developer CB Richard Ellis. The Sherbert Group’s Tara Sherbert gave a technical accounting overview of the tax incentives and joined a panel on best practices.

Will Hughes of CGE Venture Group — a West End representative, leader and Charlotte native — encouraged community members to “think big,” and view the new vision as an “opportunity to highlight the area’s culture and history to yield economic benefits.”

Bonds also led a discussion specifically focused on what residents perceived as the area’s assets, and opportunities for development or improvement. Participants agreed that Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black university (HBCU) that hosted the event in its $36 million Science Center, is an anchor for the community and could act as an incubator. Ideas generated for strengthening the community also drew on its rich history, culture and arts with additional ideas focusing on improvements to community and recreational spaces, creating an active community environment, alleviating the food desert through access to healthy foods and nutritional education, developing and supporting youth, and leveraging the faith-based community. Other ideas included giving access to relevant, manageable financial literacy programs that go beyond home purchases, incorporating technology to make this a “smart community” and ensuring environmental issues like clean air are considered.

Overall, residents agreed that the West End should support a diverse community with affordable housing options, workforce development opportunities for residents, respect and support for existing businesses, affordable business office space and co-working space, diverse industry and the development of community-focused, sustainable businesses that enable money that is spent in the West End to stays in the West End. Clay Grubb, CEO of Grubb Properties, noted his appreciation for how the Federal Reserve Community Development team is “shining a bright light on opportunities for how the folks living in these communities can participate.”

The community’s input will be used in the “community mapping” process that is part of the development of a comprehensive community plan for the area. “We want to challenge investors to create the intentional and strategic development that this corridor deserves,” said Charlotte City Council Member Dr. Justin Harlow, who noted that past decisions may have resulted in disinvestment in this area. “Now is the chance for positive change and to reimagine the West End.”

Elizabeth Duda of the Richmond Fed’s Supervision, Regulation and Credit function supported the program in Charlotte.

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