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Leon Levine gives $500,000 for project remaking old Boulevard Homes

Artist rendering of the Howard Levine Child Development Center on West Boulevard. The fund campaign has raised $11 million toward a $15 million goal to build and operate the center.
Artist rendering of the Howard Levine Child Development Center on West Boulevard. The fund campaign has raised $11 million toward a $15 million goal to build and operate the center.

Family Dollar stores founder Leon Levine has become the latest community leader to give money to help remake the Boulevard Homes public housing project on West Boulevard, a site that once had a crime rate five times the city average.

The Leon Levine Foundation announced this week that it is giving $500,000 to help the nonprofit Renaissance West Community Initiative create a $15 million child development center on the site.

The $500,000 is for construction, operations and programming at the center, which is the lynchpin of a $90 million revitalization plan for the 41-acre Boulevard Homes site.

Levine’s gift comes just six months after his son, Howard Levine, announced he was giving $1 million toward creation of the child development center, a move that prompted the facility to be named the Howard Levine Child Development Center in his honor.

The campaign to fund the center is now within $4 million of its $15 million campaign goal; money that will help build the center as well as pay for operations and programming.

Boulevard Homes’ 900 units were bulldozed, and the land at West Boulevard and Billy Graham Parkway will be replaced by a mixed-income housing community called The Renaissance. When completed, the site will have have 334 housing units, a community center, a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school and the child development center.

The center, to open in mid-2017, will be managed by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and will serve 152 children up to age 5.

Tom Lawrence, executive director of the Leon Levine Foundation, said the project appealed to the foundation because it will help end the cycle of poverty for children in the West Boulevard corridor, one of the city’s most troubled areas.

Before closing down, Boulevard Homes had a median household income of $14,034 and only 25 percent of the children in the area scoring at or above grade level on statewide tests.

“This gift takes us a huge step forward in meeting the campaign goal in making sure the Howard Levine Child Development Center is finished by the end of next summer, along with programming for the entire Renaissance community,” said Laura Clark, CEO of the Renaissance West Community Initiative. She said she is confident the group would raise the rest of the money by the end of the year.

The fundraising campaign is being led by Hugh McColl Jr., Mike Rizer and Richard “Stick” Williams.

Other contributors to the project included the Charlotte Housing Authority, the C.D. Spangler Foundation, American Airlines, Jerry and Rosalind Richardson, Tim and Sarah Belk, Hugh and Jane McColl Jr. and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Foundation, the grant-making arm of Foundation for the Carolinas.

Work began on Renaissance West in 2010, and the last phase of 150 mixed-income apartments and town houses will be completed next year. There are 3,000 names on the waiting list to get homes in the community, officials say.

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