Eric Frazier

Here’s one more way to ‘restore’ uptown’s old Brooklyn neighborhood

By Eric Frazier

Associate Editor, Editorial Pages

This undated photo shows Second Street, part of what was then Brooklyn’s business district.
This undated photo shows Second Street, part of what was then Brooklyn’s business district. Observer staff photo

Next week, Mecklenburg County commissioners hope to decide the fate of the 17 acres of prime uptown land once occupied by the Brooklyn neighborhood.

Three redevelopment proposals vie for their favor. Some observers worry that Brooklyn, a history-rich black neighborhood razed in the 1960s and 70s in the name of urban redevelopment, will be replaced by the same flavor of architecturally bland upscale housing that’s sprouting across the center city.

Others worry that the newly redeveloped Brooklyn Village won’t have enough public green space.

As long as everybody’s throwing ideas around, I’ll toss another on the pile.

The county stands to reap as much as $50 million from the most lucrative of the Second Ward proposals. Board of commissioners chairman Trevor Fuller estimates the county’s net proceeds, given the millions it took to acquire the school board’s former headquarters and pay other expenses, could be closer to $20 million.

Still, that’s a lot of money. Why not endow a full-ride merit scholarship program for low-income Charlotte students?

Call it the Brooklyn Scholars program. I’d give preference to students going to colleges and universities in the Charlotte area – the better to keep the money and academic talent local. But I wouldn’t mandate that.

It should also keep an eye out for high-achieving scholars in the neighborhoods to which Brooklyn’s residents were dispersed, like Biddleville, Smallwood, Seversville and McCrorey Heights, all along the Beatties Ford Road corridor. Still, every kid wouldn’t have to fit that description.

It wouldn’t be hard to set up, I don’t think. Staffers at the Foundation for the Carolinas assemble endowments like this in their sleep.

By way of context, Sandra and Leon Levine seeded their Levine Scholars program at UNC Charlotte with $9.3 million over 10 years, then added $13 million more to extend it to 2024. Their program gives scholarships to 20 students each year. By 2020, 80 Levine Scholars will grace UNCC’s campus.

Some might say a scholarship program makes an odd response to the destruction of a neighborhood. But let’s think about that. Brooklyn battled poverty, but it also contained restaurants, a hotel, small businesses and fine homes. In the era of racial segregation, the needy, the ambitious and the (relatively) affluent lived side by side.

The new redevelopment plans, as commissioner Vilma Leake pointed out, can’t and won’t recreate that Brooklyn.

Likely we’ll wind up with some affordable housing units, but mostly a whole lot of high-end properties. Is that enough of a nod to Brooklyn’s heritage? I’d say it’s necessary, but not enough.

Now consider the idea of taking the proceeds from that deal – the fruit from Brooklyn’s destruction – and pumping it into a new generation of upwardly mobile young strivers from today’s Brooklyns.

Something about that just feels right.

“I like the theory,” Fuller said when I ran the idea by him. He added that once the county strikes a deal with a developer, “someone will take (that idea) up, I suspect. Or something like it.”

Maybe the county’s proceeds will go to some similarly worthy cause yet to be mapped out by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, which is seeking answers to our glaring economic mobility problem.

But I like the Brooklyn Scholars idea. It’s not the only way to help heal the broken promise of urban redevelopment in Brooklyn.

But it sure seems like a good start.

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com

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