By Barney Blakeney
Through several business initiatives, Metanoia Community Development Corporation in North Charleston’s Chicora/Cherokee neighborhood is continuing its efforts to insure that residents of the community will maintain their presence in the rapidly transforming community previously relegated to urban blight for more than two decades.
Chicora/Cherokee, the community adjacent to the now defunct Charleston Naval Shipyard, was among the most adversely affected neighborhoods directly impacted when the naval shipyard closed in 1996. The shipyard’s demise signaled further deterioration of businesses and the quality of life for residents in North Charleston’s southernmost quadrant. But since being designated a 501c3 non-profit in 2004, Metanoia has worked to invest in neighborhood assets, build leaders, establish quality housing and generate economic development. Last week Metanoia CEO Rev. Bill Stanfield offered an update on the non-profit’s business activities.
Metanoia owns three buildings on Reynolds Avenue, 2019-2021 Reynolds Ave. Renovations to the building at 2019 Reynolds Avenue, formerly Swinton’s Dry Cleaners, is slated to soon begin. Renovations to 2021-A Reynolds Avenue was the first completed and now is home to Dell’z on the Macon, a popular health food cafe/restaurant that serves traditional American cuisine, smoothies and juice bar. The building also is home to Metanoia’s Youth Entrepreneurship Program.
Behind Dell’z, Metanoia conducts its Youth Entrepreneurship Center where some 23 middle and high school students operate several businesses that include jewelry making and silk screen printing. The students are recruited from the surrounding Chicora/Cherokee, Accabee and Union Heights neighborhoods. Renovations to 2021-B are nearly completed. The building will house a bakery, Stanfield said.
Reflecting on the area where most of the commercial buildings remain vacant, Stanfield said Metanoia’s goal is to help stabilize the community through investments that offer economic development to residents already there. From small companies that rehabilitate the buildings to the vendors who eventually occupy them, Metanoia’s mission is to recycle neighborhood resources that create a healthy community, Stanfield said.
“Metanoia’s vision for the community is to assure that as investment comes into the neighborhood that investment is done more fairly than previously has occurred. Our vision includes the statement that ‘Reynolds Avenue becomes a hub of community and social activities.’ We want to make sure the realization of this vision includes the residents of our community,” Stanfield said.
Metanoia in 2014 renovated a vacant building on Reynolds Avenue to house a Youth Entrepreneurship Center, a dormitory for volunteers and also a café. Metanoia has just completed a second building on Reynolds Avenue in partnership with Lowcountry Local First with the goal of spurring further entrepreneurship within the corridor. Lowcountry Local First is identifying two small businesses to be located in the space. The back of the building also will serve as an expansion to Metanoia’s Youth Entrepreneurship Center.
Metanoia owns another building on Reynolds Avenue that it is now in the planning stages of renovation. Metanoia is working with Glenn Keyes Architects to redesign the shell of the building to one day house a full service restaurant and office space for businesses or non-profits that build on the capacity of the residents themselves, Stanfield said. Adjacent to the buildings Metanoia owns is Djum – an African American owned dance and exercise studio catering to black women.
The corridor is taking shape to be representative of the community that lives around it, Stanfield added. Metanoia partnered with local groups last fall to host the Build a Better Block Festival where residents provided feedback to city leaders about what they would like to see along the corridor in terms of businesses and street improvements.
“We knew that in order to keep our community diverse and representative of the people living her now, we needed to have site control over a portion of Reynolds Avenue. As investment along this corridor heats up, it will be important for us to identify opportunities for our three buildings that maintain the existing fabric of this community. Our commitment is to create positive spaces for entrepreneurs that are representative of our neighborhood and that offer the jobs and/or services the neighborhood residents desire,” Stanfield said.