North End Partners sees moving as way to help homeless, development

A group of North Tryon business owners said Monday that the best way to help the homeless and spur redevelopment is to move groups serving them into a new campus that would consolidate access to food, shelter and other services.

But the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte and the Urban Ministry Center have said they don’t have any plans to move. Tensions between some North Tryon business leaders and area nonprofits have resurfaced in the wake of plans to revitalize North Tryon Street.

Keeping a homeless shelter and other groups on North Tryon could hurt businesses and scare away potential residents, said Mark Middlesworth, president of North End Partners, a nonprofit group created to promote the revitalization of North Tryon Street. Property owners at the meeting complained about homeless people sleeping outside their buildings and panhandling aggressively.

Middlesworth hosted Monday’s “Helping the Homeless Summit” at his Extravaganza Depot, an event space he owns near the shelter.

“No longer can the fastest-growing city in America continue to put a Band-Aid on this gaping wound,” said Middlesworth, speaking to about 50 business owners and local politicians. “We need to take a step back and look at it from a different perspective.”

He solicited volunteers to form a task force to study the issue and present recommendations in the spring. Middlesworth suggested vacant land on Statesville Avenue could be used for a unified homeless services campus, modeled on the 22-acre Haven of Hope in San Antonio.

A “North Tryon Vision Plan” recently unveiled shows urban planners’ hopes to turn the area into a thriving center of cafes, shops, apartments, arts centers and public gathering places. Developments such as the new SkyHouse apartment towers, First Ward Park and the Blue Line light-rail extension have already started to change the area.

Advocates for the homeless have said that moving them away from uptown would make it harder for them to get back on their feet and access needed services. The groups have also said that zoning and land costs would make any move difficult.

The charities have no plans to move. The 400-bed Men’s Shelter of Charlotte recently launched a $7 million campaign to renovate its 2.5-acre site just outside the Interstate 277 loop, which would make it more permanent. Four blocks south, the Urban Ministry Center, which offers services to the homeless, also doesn’t plan to move.

Dale Mullennix, executive director of the Urban Ministry Center, said the best strategy is to work to get people in permanent housing more quickly, not relocate facilities.

“They’re not on North Tryon,” he said. “We have a strategy that works already ... Help us get people off the streets faster.”

And Charlotte Center City Partners – the economic development group behind the North Tryon Vision Plan – has said that it doesn’t support moving the charities. Michael Smith, head of the group, has said the problem is an “imbalance,” meaning there are too many empty parking lots and too few businesses and residents. Once the corridor’s revitalization truly kicks off, there will be more people around and the homeless in the area won’t dominate the area, the thinking goes.

Mecklenburg County commissioner George Dunlap, a Democrat, suggested North End Partners’ aim isn’t simply improving aid to the homeless.

“Let’s be honest and talk about what the goal really is,” Dunlap said. “Is the goal really to move people or is the goal to provide services?”

Patsy Kinsey, a Democrat who represents the area on Charlotte City Council, said a new campus could be worth considering.

“We do need to think broadly,” said Kinsey. “We don’t want to move people out of their area, but that may be what we need to do.”

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio has agreed to mediate in discussions between the groups. The county has a stake in the corridor’s transformation, with plans to sell the Hal Marshall Center and adjacent plots of land to private developers.

Staff writer Jonathan McFadden contributed.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo