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Reynolds Avenue Vitality Will Be Restored - But Will Area Residents Be Replaced?
8/27/2014 4:02:56 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Elliott Barnwell said learning that comedian Bill Murray had bought two buildings on Reynolds Avenue in North Charleston to help spur redevelopment of his old neighborhood left him with mixed emotions of nostalgia, encouragement and frustration.

Barnwell grew up in the Six Mile community near the Reynolds Avenue commercial corridor during the 1960s as the last vestiges of racial segregation began to disappear. He recalled that the adjacent predominantly Black Six Mile and predominantly white Chicora/Cherokee communities were clearly defined, but shared the variety of commercial resources offered in the area.

Fueled by the economic engine that was the former Charleston Naval Shipyard, prosperity and poverty coexisted in congenial respect for position and place. But integration led to in white flight and economic decline accelerated by the closure of the naval base.

“I watched Six Mile, Five Mile and Chicora/Cherokee go down slowly. At first white flight created an opportunity for Blacks in the area to move into better housing. But when the white folks moved out, so did the businesses.

“Then the base closed and the economic bottom fell out. Businesses in the area just closed down. There used to be an A&P grocery store on Rivers Avenue near Reynolds and another grocery store at the old Pinehaven Shopping Center/Shipwatch Square. Since the Winn-Dixie moved out of Shipwatch Square, there hasn’t been a grocery store within five miles of our community,” Barnwell said.

“When I read that Bill Murray bought property on Reynolds Avenue, I realized the old prosperity is coming back. The city’s been trying to redevelop the Shipwatch Square property and the old naval hospital is going to reopen as a community resource hub. All that’s great, but any time declining Black communities are redeveloped, gentrification displaces the people,” Barnwell laments.

Chicora/Cherokee Neighborhood Association President A.J. Davis also has mixed emotions about the continuing redevelopment that’s coming to the area. It’s been a long time coming, but he’s unsure what it means to current residents. The biggest question is what will happen after development occurs, he said.

Davis said he doesn’t know what Murray’s group, Yarrum Properties, plans to do with the two buildings it has purchased.

A recent report said the former Rexall Drug Store will accommodate retail and residential uses. Neither the new owners or the neighborhood association have reached out to one another, Davis said.

Bill Stanfield, whose non-profit organization Metanoia has been working to provide various resources to the Chicora/Cherokee and surrounding communities over the past decade, has had conversations with the new owners. He’s confident whatever they bring to the table will be positive. But he also thinks the impact of redevelopment to current residents is a significant question.

The Chicora/Cherokee community where some 2,400 of the total 2,800 residents are Black and about 90 percent of residents are low and moderate income earners, will need outside investment to restore the area’s commercial vitality, Stanfield said.

Metanoia is working to equip area residents through homeownership, quality affordable residential rentals, an owner occupied repair program, financial literacy classes, a community garden, youth entrepreneurship and other resources. But how residents will participate in the area’s redevelopment, is an open question, Stanfield said.

North Charleston Dist. 10 City Councilman Michael Brown said there’s no reason current residents of the area can’t participate in the coming development.

He makes that assessment based on his philosophy that preparation and positioning can facilitate participation. What is certain, Brown said, is that the coming development will impact residents.

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