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Feb
09

'Hood Happenings #2

Written by Liz Eagle

‘Hood Happenings 2 Entry 2:
Good in the ‘Hood: Area 15
By : Liz Eagle  

area-51If you haven't noticed, Charlotte is a city that is poured out into and made up of various micro-communities around the perimeter of a quickly expanding uptown. Some are featured and thriving- Plaza Midwood, Southend, and NoDa, to name a few- while others are often forgotten, swept into the aforementioned, their individual  identities often overlooked.  

It's no one's fault, really. It's just the way it goes. You hear about and often frequent the cultural and economic centers of the city. They are the ones that are discussed, praised and invested into. But I'm here to tell you that there are a lot of underdog 'hoods that are very deserving of praise as well, thanks in large part to the pride taken by those residing therein.  

One such 'hood, located on the way to NoDa actually, is Optimist Park. It's bound by N. Davidson and Matheson, reaching a little beyond the train yard and back down 10th. With more warehouse and manufacturing space than retail and residential, it's easy to see why this neighborhood flies so low under the radar. There are quite a few people, though, who are thriving in this community, regardless if anyone notices.  

One such couple is the Espins. Carlos and his wife, Arlene, moved to Optimist Park in 2001. They moved to the area aware of the financial status of the neighborhood and were, well, optimistic about what the neighborhood could become.  As a former counselor, Carlos had the relational personality, paired with Arlene’s proficiency in finance, perfect for their next undertaking: Area 15.

With a group of investors in 2006, Carlos purchased an unassuming warehouse on the corner of North Davidson and 15th.  The vision of this purchase was not based in big-business and large profit margins, but to be an incubator of those looking to start their own small businesses.

The line-up of tenants at Area 15 is often rotating, and constantly expanding.  After spending a summer away from the warehouse, I was excited to meet Carlos for a cup of locally roasted coffee at a newly-opened coffee shop, All Nations Coffee.  Sitting with Carlos is always a pleasure.  You can see his enthusiasm for the area and charisma for the overall vision of Area 15.  As we sat and chatted, I asked Carlos to define his initial vision for the space.  His response was plain and matter-of-fact: ”To be exactly what it is today.” 

So what exactly does that mean?

This is a “see it to believe it” type of space.  In one building, people from multiple creative, religious, finanical and ethnic backgrounds come together, working toward small business goals while enthusiastically supporting each other’s efforts.  Carlos chose this neighborhood specifically because of it’s “poor” façade.  When asked about his decision to utilize this space as opposed to one in a more affluent or trend-forward neighborhood, he responded that the people in Optimist Park need it, that he specifically envisioned this concept in a neighborhood that, though deemed financially poor, was a community rich socially and spiritually, ways that in our city and country are often discounted because a price tag cannot be attached.

And the impact of this decision have far exceeded what could have been imagined in any brainstorming or business-planning session.  Carlos describes the impact as “a modern day miracle, with lively collaboration from an incredibly diverse population; homeless and rich, visionaries and graffiti artists.”  Area 15 is a hub for community activism, serving as a Welcome Center for DNC activists as well as the Christian Anarchist movement.  Whether you agree religiously or politically, it’s hard to argue allowing people safe space to make a difference.  And that is precisely what happens at Area 15 on a daily basis.

By offering office and business space at a fraction of the cost found elsewhere, dreams of small businesses and non-profits have become a reality.  One such business is the Not Just Coffee Shop.  Founded at Area 15 in 2010, the NJCS gained a spectacular reputation for quality coffee with forward-thinking preparation that eventually landed them a spot in Uptown’s 7th Street Public Market and a spread in the NY Times.  Though sad to see them go, Area 15 did what it set out to do: provide people with the opportunity to take their dreams to the next level.

At 23,000 square feet, Area 15 currently houses various businesses, non-profits and other creative endeavors.  Group 15 Real Estate has been utlitizing office space in the warehouse for a few years and enjoys the central location.  A new venture, The Actor’s Lab, recently moved in, with a newly built stage and min-theater for small productions and acting classes.  Also housed at Area 15 are Trips for Kids bicycle non-profit, Free Store Charlotte, 24/7 Prayer Room, Curiosi-T T-shirt company, and Speak Up Magazine, ending with a newly renovated band practice space, which is soon to be ulitlized by a local 7-piece rap/rock band.

After Carlos and I conversed about all the current happenings, he gave me a tour of current vacancies, describing things he hopes to happen for the future.  As Area 15 grows as a community center, focusing on the specific needs of Optimist Park residents and beyond, Carlos has hopes for a discount nutritional drink store, with plans of becoming a discount health food store, offering great nutrition and accepting food stamps for items individuals may not have access to elsewhere.  He plans to continue to host events as he has in the past, such as BarCamp, a user-driven conference where individuals vote on what they’d like to learn about.  Carlos also host events for authors such as Shane Claiborne, yard sales to benefit non-profits housed in Area Fifteen, and church events that feed the community and provide positive outreach for those in need financially or relationally.

Unlike so many business opportunities, Area 15 stands out because it is so clearly driven by relationships as opposed to profits.  The owner himself can be found wandering around helping tenants and offering work to homeless individuals in need of income.  Though difficult to calculate, the impact of this endeavor has reached well beyond Optimist Park, and even outside the City of Charlotte.  I’m glad to say you don’t have to look far to find good in this ‘hood.

Located at 516 E. 15th Street, Area 15 currently has both office space and volunteer opportunities available.  Other venues include outdoor space, stage and event room.  See for yourself at www.areafifteen.com or contact Carlos at carlos@areafifteen.com for more information.  Twitter: areafifteen and Facebook: Area Fifteen.

 

Liz Eagle   Liz Eagle

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