Even clouds and light rain couldn’t dampen the cheer of city officials, residents, and community leaders who gathered Thursday inside a large tent on Beatties Ford Road to celebrate the opening of Chase Bank’s newest branch.
“This is community-building at it’s best,” declared an exuberant Malcolm Graham, who represents the area on Charlotte City Council and who, moments earlier, had ticked off a growing list of economic achievements that are slowly bringing change to Historic West End.
“We’re going to make sure this branch is successful; we’re going to make sure this corridor is successful,” he said to cheers from those assembled inside the tent.
As Graham and others noted, it had been quite a week for the Beatties Ford Road Corridor — about $200 million in economic investments announced in the previous seven days, with $80 million going to Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), the city’s historically Black college and an anchor on the corridor.
And now Chase was about to cut the ribbon on a West End bank branch — Its 13th branch in Charlotte since entering the market a year and a half ago.
Located at the corner of Beatties Ford Road and LaSalle Street, the branch will offer West End resident greater access to banking, Chase officials said. It also will connect with the community through financial health workshops, events and by working with nearby JCSU to train students who have an interest in pursuing careers in the financial services industry.
Nicole Byers, a 1996 graduate of West Charlotte High and a former resident of the Beatties Ford Road community, will manage the branch. Byers and her team of nine will focus on helping more consumers in the region open accounts, manage their money, start businesses and buy homes.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead this branch in the neighborhood where I grew up,” she said prior to the ribbon-cutting. “I know this area well, and I know that by physically being here, we are becoming part of the Beatties Ford community with a vested interest in its growth, equity, and financial stability.”
A ‘misfit team’
The bank is housed in a building that, decades ago, was home to McDonald’s Cafeteria — not the fast-food chain, but a home-cooking restaurant owned and operated by John McDonald, a Black entrepreneur who was legendary on corridor. In more recent years, the building had fallen into disrepair and was often the site of loitering and reported crimes.
Two years ago, Christopher Dennis, founder of E-Fix Development Corp., began eying the site with a vision toward redeveloping the single-story building. In April 2020, the company closed on the building after paying $1.25 million for the site, according to county tax records. By then Chase had quietly committed to being his first tenant. (BW Sweets, a Black-owned bakery with locations in east Charlotte and SouthEnd, will also occupy a space inside the building. Dennis said he also has plans for an art gallery in the building.)
“As I stand here today, I’m living the dream,” Dennis told the crowd under a white tent.
“Today’s about JPMorgan Chase,” he said. “I want to welcome them to the community as an integral part of giving back and providing services that are needed in this community.”
Later, in an interview with QCity Metro, Dennis credited the success of his project to a “misfit team” of determined people who would not give up.
“When God gives you a vision… I told my team about a vision about going into the deep, and God showed me a misfit team,” he said. “And that misfit team was a team that got this project done — the team nobody thought would make it happen, and we were able to make it happen.”
Standing beside a shiny, new Chase ATM on Thursday, Dennis recalled how the building was before — neglected, with low-end retailers and check-cashing store. He called the transformation “amazing.”
“And we did it on Beatties Ford Road,” he said. “So when I talk about God, and I talk about how we got it done, all I can say is, ‘But God.’ I take no credit for what is happening. It’s all about God and my team.”
J’Tanya Adams, president of Historic West End Partners, who worked with Dennis to acquire the property, called the bank “the manifestation of a dream.”
“Chris and I had a conversation about the development of this property right on this corner, early on a Sunday morning,” she said. “So to see it’s vibrancy…having a financial center to follow Mr. McDonald’s legacy, it leaves me speechless and full.”
At Thursday’s ribbon-cutting, Dennis also recalled that early-morning meeting with Adams: “As we stood on the corner there, I realized that we had to do something iconic for this corridor,” he said. “It had to have an impact and drive home change, impactful change.”
An ‘amazing week’
With the bank’s arrival, JPMorgan Chase, the parent company, announced a $750,000 gift to JCSU on Thursday. The university will use the money to expand its career pathways programs for students interested in financial services through work-based learning and post-graduate job placement.
The pledge is a part of $30 billion commitment the company has made to help increase economic opportunity in diverse communities across the country.
In the Charlotte area, this also includes a $750,000 career pathways grant to Central Piedmont Community College [CPCC] and a multi-million-dollar investment in Black-owned Mechanics and Farmers Bank, a Durham-based institution which has a location at Five Points in the West End.
In noting the recent waves of money flowing toward West End development, Graham called it “an amazing week on Beatties Ford Road.”
On Oct. 28, Fifth Third Bank pledged up to $20 million to aid economic development in Historic West End, a three-year commitment that will include loans to small businesses, mortgage loans, investments, and philanthropic support.
On Monday, some of Charlotte’s top corporations and foundations gathered at JCSU to pledge $196 million to the newly launched Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, which seeks to raise $250 million to blunt the economic impact of historical racism in Black and Brown communities. More than $76 million from those pledges will go to JCSU.
In addition to the building that houses the bank, E-Fix Development also purchased 2020 Beatties Ford Road, directly across from the bank branch. Dennis said he plans to make what he calls “Site 2.”
Both properties, he said, will have charging stations for electric cars.
Michelle Mattison, a broker representing E-Fix Development, said the company would announce other tenants by the end of the year, adding that they would be in the realm of social capital and arts and culture.
“Stay tuned,” she said. “It will be very exciting for the corridor.”
Change is happening up and down the corridor. There’s the CityLynx Gold Line streetcar, multiple public spaces in the works, and new food options.
For decades, however, the corridor suffered from neglect and underinvestment.
Last year, the city of Charlotte launched a Corridors of Opportunity initiative — a multi-year effort to reverse decades of civic neglect in six predominantly Black communities now plagued by crime and poverty.
So far, the City Council has voted to spend $38.5 million to make improvements along the six corridors. The Beatties Ford Road/Lasalle Street intersection is one of them.
Graham said Thursday he applauds the recent investments, adding, “It ain’t done yet.”
He also issued a challenge.
“We got to make sure our seniors are protected,” he said. “We got to make sure we rehab more houses, so people who call Beatties Ford home can call it home tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, and that they won’t be displaced, that we fuel Johnson C. Smith to make sure they’re provided the energy so that they can be the protector of the legacy of this corridor.”