Part of Brookhill will be torn down after years of failed plans

The new owners say they don’t plan to displace anyone from the community.
Debbie Williams, executive director of the Brookhill Community Resource Center.
Debbie Williams, executive director of the Brookhill Community Resource Center.(Danielle Chemtob/Axios)
Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 9:38 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AXIOS) - Rosalind Williams has watched South End grow up around her $400 per month apartment in Brookhill. Now, the bulldozers are finally arriving near her doorstep.

There are 20 vacant buildings along Brookhill Road and Village Court.

Driving the news: Within the next few weeks, the new owner of the South Tryon Street community will tear down 20 vacant buildings as they start redeveloping the 36-acre property, the firms partnering on the work announced in a release late last month.

  • Residents who live in the remaining buildings, including Williams, still don’t know exactly what’s next for them, but the new owners say they don’t plan to displace anyone from the community.

Why it matters: The battle to save Brookhill is one example of the city’s worsening affordable housing shortage, as older, less-expensive housing across the city is being replaced with pricier homes.

What’s happening: Charlotte area businessman Mike Griffin’s company Griffin Brothers took over ownership of the buildings and development rights in March after a previous redevelopment plan fell through.

  • “Nobody wants to see dilapidated buildings within the site,” Antoine Dennard, a partner with Quore Real Estate Advisors, which represents Griffin Brothers across its real estate holdings, told Axios. “It’s not what this community represents.”
  • Dennard said the companies are still working out the redevelopment plans, but confirmed with Axios that they don’t plan to displace anyone.

Backstory: C.D. Spangler Sr., father of billionaire and former UNC system president C.D. Spangler Jr., developed Brookhill in 1950 to house Black residents during segregation. Today, it remains one of the last affordable housing options near South End, and stands out among the gleaming buildings going up around it.

Between the lines: Brookhill is in disrepair and has languished for years due to a complicated ownership structure: When Spangler built the property, he put a 99-year ground lease on it, so his family company still owns the land underneath. The lease runs until 2049, at which point the property and improvements must be given back to the Spangler firm.

  • That ownership has been a roadblock for previous attempts to redevelop the site.

Context: Tom Hendrickson of development firm Lookout Ventures sold the complex to Griffin after he failed to secure funding for his plans. He originally planned to build over 300 homes on the site, around half of which would be below market-rate.

  • But the city denied his request for a public subsidy for the project in part because it was concerned the housing would no longer be affordable once it was handed back to the land owners.

What they’re saying: Dennard acknowledges the challenges of the site, but said the team is working to come up with solutions.

  • “We’re trying to do things differently, maybe learning from past developers who have tried to do this,” he said. “We just thought that if we can pull this off, it would be something that not only us but the community can be proud of.”

Community perspective: On Thursday, Rosalind Williams and her sister, Debbie, pointed through the window of the Brookhill Community Resource Center’s office at the long, grey building where they grew up.

  • For once, Debbie Williams, executive director of the community resource center, is hopeful about the future of the community. She believes Griffin has good intentions, and says he has been upfront with her.
  • “This is almost like a breath of fresh air, so to speak, and after we’ve been in stagnant air for so long,” Williams says.

The other side: Rosalind Williams, though, is hesitant. She wants assurances in writing stating that she won’t be displaced from the apartment she’s lived in for over 25 years. She’s worried that even if Brookhill is replaced with affordable housing, the rents may still be more expensive than what residents are currently paying.

  • And what about the future of Brookhill, of the historic neighborhood where she’s spent the majority of her life?
  • “Like everything else that’s around, it’s gone. This took them a little bit longer because of who owned  … the land. But they wanted it bad. And finally this is it: the last (affordable) neighborhood.”

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