Fifth Third Bank will invest up to $20 million to assist Historic West End

Fifth Third Bank will commit up to $20 million in various forms of financial assistance to aid the economic development of Historic West End, the company announced Thursday.

The assistance will come in the form of small business loans, mortgages, investments and philanthropic support, including grants from the Fifth Third Foundation.

The commitment would be one of the largest yet in the historically Black community, which in recent years has seen a wave of public and private investments.

Nationwide, the bank has committed $2.8 billion to assist communities within its 11-state footprint. Charlotte is one of nine cities identified this week to receive Fifth Third assistance.

Bank officials made the announcement under a large tent erected at the West Complex, surrounded by a who’s who of local officials.

In Charlotte, Fifth Third Bank will partner with LISC Charlotte, which will administer the funds to three local organizations serving the city’s west side.

LISC Charlotte is the local arm of a New York-based nonprofit that works in underserved communities to assist with affordable housing and economic development.

Lee Fite, president of Fifth Third’s Mid-Atlantic region, called the three-year commitment a “thoughtfully structured approach to solve existing real issues.”

“This program is more than simply providing capital; it is about partnering directly with communities to make a lasting impact that benefits everyone,” he said in a statement.

He said the bank is looking to make a “significant impact” in the Historic West End by targeting investments in specific areas and collaborating with the neighborhood and its leaders.

Spending plans

In addition to LISC, much of the money committed by Fifth Third will find its way to three organizations — Historic West End Partners, an economic development group; For the Struggle, a community outreach organization; and the West Side Community Land Trust, which is working to preserve affordable housing in west Charlotte.

“You’re all soldiers in the army that are changing this community,” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said of the women who leads those three organizations. 

Charis Blackmon, who directs the land trust, said funds provided to her organization would go to acquire additional properties and support the nonprofit’s overall growth. Since its inception in 2017, the land trust has developed nine permanently affordable homes and a commercial public space in Enderly Park. It’s land holdings now include 17 parcels, and the land trust has prepared 20 residents for home ownership, Blackmon said.

Residents and stakeholders in Charlotte’s Historic West End community gathered at the West Complex on Thursday, Oct. 28, to hear Fifth Third Bank officials outline plans for a $20 million community development initiative in the historically Black neighborhood. (QCity Metro)

For The Struggle will use funds to expand its elderly programs, which feed seniors, assist with free home repairs, tax challenges, and after-life planning, such as wills and trusts.

“This is transformative because this is what equity looks like,” Alesha Brown, the group’s executive director, told QCity Metro. “This is the community that needs the most investment. This is the community that’s been overlooked.”

J’Tanya Adams, who leads Historic West End Partners, said her organization had not finalized a plan for using the money. However, she said, bringing a full-service grocery store to the corridor — specifically a Weaver Street Co-op Market to the Five Points area — could be a high-impact use for the money.

“It has been more than 50 years in the making for the corridor to be food secure again,” she said. “That would be the big thing I would aim for should there be enough funds to make that happen.”

A new hotbed for investment

Millions of dollars in grants, donations and philanthropic endeavors haven’t always been the case in the Historic West End.

Until recently, the corridor suffered from underinvestment from the public and private sectors, but that’s now changing.

In August, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) opened a 2.5-mile extension of its CityLynx Gold Line streetcar, which now connects Historic West End to east Charlotte. 

[Related: Tracking the change: A look at some of the projects set for Historic West End (Part 1)]

Projects to create new public spaces also are underway along the corridor. 

Five Points Plaza, adjacent to a newly renovated retail building owned by developer Dianna Ward, will feature a small amphitheater, a splash pad, outdoor seating, and public art. 

Up the street, workers are putting the finishing touches on The Ritz at Washington Heights, which will feature a performance shelter, outdoor movies, cafe-style seating, a play area and free wifi. 

Both projects are expected to open in November. 

In September, the city announced a $225,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to enhance outdoor spaces at the Allegra Westbrooks Regional Library on Beatties Ford Road and the Beatties Ford/LaSalle Street intersection. 

Erin Chantry, a senior urban designer and planner with the city, said the project is projected to begin in late Spring 2022.

Charles Thomas, Charlotte program director for Knight Foundation, said last month the grant would extend the already “positive growth” happening along the Beatties Ford Road corridor. 

“Public spaces are happening all along the whole corridor, which is really important to the residents,” Thomas said. “It’s critical to have key places that bring people out into the district so they are patronizing businesses and getting to know one another.”

And there’s more happening.

At Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street, developer Christopher Dennis is bringing new retail stores to a renovated strip mall that will be anchored by a JPMorgan Chase & Co. bank branch. 

Near Northwest School of the Arts sits the former home of LD Melton Financial Services. The new owner, Erika Troutman, has plans to renovate the building to provide office space for small businesses.

A few blocks over is the historic Excelsior Club. Its new owner, a California-based developer, has outlined a new vision for the building that includes a boutique hotel, an upscale restaurant, and an indoor/outdoor performance area. 

Many of these redevelopment projects and revitalization efforts have been made possible by resident-led community organizations that focus on growth while insisting that the community’s history be maintained and honored.

District 2 City Council member Malcolm Graham, who represents the Historic West End, said during Thursday’s announcement that community-led revitalization efforts in the West End could be a model for other parts of the city where investment is needed. 

“The focus right now is on Beatties Ford Road, but certainly there are a number of other corridors that deserve the same type of attention,” he said. 

Graham added: “This is a perfect example of how we can work together with the private sector to make things happen for residents and communities.”

This article was published as part of our West End Journalism Project, which is funded by a grant by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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