Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 24, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Local and state officials spoke eagerly Wednesday about Salisbury community groups working together to shape the future of the West End neighborhood.
The city was awarded a $170,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Develop-ment to create a plan to revitalize the West End. Several leaders from local agencies and city council gathered at the Salisbury Housing Authority office for a ceremony.
“This is a down payment on an opportunity to bring people together in a different way,” said Ed Jennings Jr., HUD regional administrator. “You not only deal with housing, but you deal with the neighboring apartments, the schools, criminal justice issues and health and human services issues. You’re building a community.”
Salisbury is the smallest of 17 cities to win a 2010 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant. After a year, cities will submit their plans to HUD and compete for grants of up to $30 million to implement the ideas.
Jennings wasn’t directly involved in selecting Salisbury for the planning grant, but he says the city likely was chosen because of its existing partnerships and the potential for fast-spreading results.
“We’re not just the urban part of HUD — we’re also looking for small communities where we can be impactful,” Jennings said. “In some of the bigger communities, it may take a lot longer to make a change.”
Salisbury City Councilman Paul Woodson said Salisbury is excited about getting the chance to revitalize the West End. “We’re so happy that we received this grant,” Woodson said. “How wonderful to be the smallest city in the nation to receive it.”
Torre Jessup, state director with the office of U.S. Rep. Mel Watt, said the 12th district has benefited from at least nine announcements bringing in about $230 million through the similar HOPE VI program, which only addressed housing.
“We hope that this Choice Neighborhoods planning grant is the beginning of yet another community that we can point to as an example of how by… partnering with other organizations, we can change and improve the quality of life for everyone,” Jessup said.
Partnership was a common theme in Wednesday’s remarks. Sam Foust, executive director of the Salisbury Housing Authority, said he and the city’s planning department will work to develop a plan with several local organizations.
“We do want and need input from all segments of the community, because this is truly a community effort,” Foust said.
That invitation stood out to Deedee Wright, secretary of the West End Community Organization. She said after the event that the revitalization is a “wonderful concept” — as long as the community is involved.
“I think it would be a good thing if we could bring in people’s different ideas and concepts of how they want to live, without being told,” she said.
Wright, who also is a member of the Salisbury Historic Master Plan advisory committee, said she would like to see the two plans work in tandem to make sure the neighborhood’s history is maintained.
“We lost some of our history when HUD tore down Dixonville,” she said.
The West End is generally defined as Caldwell Street to Brenner Avenue, bounded by West Innes Street to the north and following Old Plank Road. It includes Civic Park Apartments, a 72-unit public housing complex.
Foust said the housing authority would demolish the dilapidated complex and replace it with two 40-unit communities. (Residents would continue to have housing.)
It also would purchase additional land to spread the apartments out.
He said the implementation grant also could help provide parks, trails, employment opportunities and possibly health care services to the neighborhood and surrounding community.
“I know it will be a challenge,” Foust said. “But I believe with the strong partnership we already have with the city government and our other partners… we will be able to develop a very strong case for us being awarded the Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant at this time next year.”
A few residents of Civic Park Apartments attended the event, including Aisha Graham.
“I really thank God that y’all were there to put everything together,” she said to those involved in the grant project.
After the event, Graham said she thinks if the city shows it cares about West End residents, they in turn will care about creating a safer and more successful community.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.