A vacant lot that once housed a segregation-era movie theater on Beatties Ford Road will now be used for a community-centered public space, the city of Charlotte announced this week.
Using a $200,000 grant from Lowe’s 100 Hometowns initiative, the city will transform the 0.17-acre property at Beatties Ford Road and Tate Street to an outdoor space where residents can gather for leisure and entertainment.
The space is slated to feature a performance shelter, outdoor movies, cafe-style seating, a play area and free wifi.
In addition to the grant from Lowe’s, the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association will contribute $25,000 toward the transformation, and the city will contribute $50,000 from its Corridors of Opportunity initiative — a $24.5 million budget item focusing on six corridors throughout Charlotte, many of which have been historically neglected by business and city leaders.
Erin Chantry, a senior urban designer and planner with the city, said officials worked in collaboration with residents to determine what amenities the small park would have.
Under terms of the grant by Lowe’s, she said, the space must be complete and ready for neighborhood use by the end of October.
A grand opening date for the space has been set for Nov. 6.
A theater remembered
Based on survey results, Chantry said, the city determined that residents placed a high priority on honoring community history — including the former Ritz Theater, which was built in the waning days of racial segregation.
Mattie Marshall, president of the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association, said one of the names under consideration for the park is “Ritz at Washington Heights.”
The Ritz Theater was erected in the early 1960s and closed in 1971, according to Cinema Treasures. The building sat vacant for a while with its marquee intact before being demolished.
Down the street, closer to Johnson C. Smith University, stands 333 Beatties Ford Road, the site of the former Grand Theater, which opened for Black moviegoers in 1937.
The Grand was a centerpiece for entertainment in the Biddleville community. It closed in 1967 as segregation ended and attendance declined, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
Predating the Grand Theater were the Lincoln Theater and the Savoy Theater, both located in the once-bustling Black neighborhood of Brooklyn.
By the early 1970s, nearly all of Charlotte’s Blacks-only theaters had been razed amid a wave of integration and urban renewal, which saw entire communities of Black residents swept away — homes, churches and businesses alike.
Revitalizing the corridor
The new public space in Washington Heights comes as the Beatties Ford corridor is seeing its most significant economic investment in recent years.
Across from the site is 1202 Beatties Ford Road, 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 club, including a boutique hotel, an upscale restaurant and an indoor/outdoor performance area.
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.
Down the corridor in the Five Points area, two new shops, Jet’s Pizza and Rita’s Italian Ice, have found retail space at 1800 Rozzelles Ferry Road, a building recently renovated by Sankofa Partners LLC, headed by majority owner Diana Ward.
Just steps away, construction is underway on the new Five Points Public Plaza, a $5.5 million project that will include a small amphitheater, a splash pad, outdoor seating and public art. Construction is about 80% completed, and officials have said the plaza will open by the end of this year.
Tying it all together will be Phase 2 of the CityLynx Gold Line streetcar, which is being extended from uptown Charlotte to French Street. When completed, the Phase 2 extension will connect parts of east and west Charlotte.
In an interview with QCity Metro in June, Malcolm Graham, who represents the area on Charlotte City Council, said the new projects coming to the corridor signal a new chapter for Historic West End.
“The Beatties Ford corridor has been fighting, asking and demanding change for years,” he said, “and they’re finally getting it.”