Transformation of West End set to begin

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 20, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — A significant effort to plan the transformation of the West End neighborhood is a dream come true for people who have worked to improve the area for 40 years, a leader says.
Fannie Butler helped found the West End Community Organization in 1971 and has served as president ever since. She and about 40 other stakeholders met Tuesday with city and federal officials as Salisbury begins an 18-month process to map out a new future for one of the city’s most distressed areas.
“I really think it’s outstanding,” Butler said.
The West End needs attentive landlords and better housing, residents said. Jobs and businesses, a day-care center and a satellite medical clinic. Sidewalks and street lights, recreation for children, help for veterans.
City planners Joe Morris and Janet Gapen made a four-page list of suggestions.
The transformation scenario could encompass all that and more. Funded by a $170,000 federal grant, the plan that the Salisbury Housing Authority and the city of Salisbury will create — with the help of West End residents and community partners — centers on razing and reconstructing Civic Park Apartments, a dilapidated, 72-unit public housing project.
It will include ways to make people safer, healthier and better educated. Ways to create jobs, help families and improve transportation and education.
If successful, the effort will resonate far beyond the neighborhood, DeeDee Wright said. “A lot of people are thinking this will help just poor black folk in the West End,” said Wright, an officer with the West End Community Organization. “I think that it’s something that will help the whole city.”
Salisbury is the smallest of 17 cities in the U.S. to win a Choice Neighborhoods planning grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The award puts Salisbury in the running for up to $30 million in federal funds to implement the vision.
“We heard a lot of great ideas and saw a lot of great opportunities there,” said Chris Stearns, HUD field office director in Greensboro. “There is lots of enthusiasm from the community.”
Stearns and several other HUD officials spent Tuesday and part of Wednesday in Salisbury. He said they were pleased with the close relationship between the city and housing authority, which is not always the case, as well as the large turnout at the stakeholders’ meeting.
They were disappointed no Civic Park tenants showed up, but they plan to hold a future meeting closer to the apartments, Stearns said. He counted Livingstone College and the VA Medical Center among the top assets in the West End neighborhood, providing the opportunity not only for health care and education but jobs.
“A large part of the plan would be to bring back the commercial businesses and jobs that used to be in the neighborhood,” he said.
City Council members included a presentation from HUD officials at their meeting Tuesday.
“That definitely showed a level of political support for the process and the idea of creating a transformation plan,” Stearns said.
Choice Neighborhoods grants focus on three areas — housing, people and neighborhoods. Salisbury is competing against large cities where $30 million may not make as big an impact, said Sam Foust, executive director for the housing authority.
“Somewhere like Atlanta or Boston, it wouldn’t even make a ripple effect,” Foust said. “But it would make a big wave of difference here.”
HUD officials want Salisbury to identify more partners with a stake in the West End and bring them to the table, Foust said. The city also is expected to find multiple funding sources to help implement the transformation plan.
“Local stakeholders have to step up and be willing to come together to make a difference,” he said. “There will be the opportunity for many community foundations to get involved.”
The planning team will call on Salisbury’s private wealth and history of philanthropy, he said.
The idea is to create a plan that could be implemented even if Salisbury doesn’t win $30 million. It would just take longer.
“One resident made a good point,” Foust said. “We have a whole lot of needs here, but if we don’t get the big grant, we will still have the needs.”
The site visit from HUD put Salisbury in a good light, said Morris, the city’s planning director.
“They didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “As the smallest city in the country to receive a planning grant, they didn’t know what our capacity to deliver would be.
“But based on their visit, they feel more confident in what we will do.”
The city and housing authority are mapping out the next 18 months, including quarterly visits and monthly phone check-ins from HUD. Stearns and others are forming a team to provide support to Salisbury and Wilmington, the other North Carolina city competing for a grant.
Morris said West End residents will continue to play a role in the planning process, and he would like a regular spot on the community’s monthly agenda for the next year and a half.
Consider it done, Butler said.
The West End Community Organization, which started in Butler’s garage, meets the third Monday at the Miller Recreation Center, 1402 W. Bank St.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.