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Daily Archive for January 04 2011

Groups Work to Revitalize Charleston’s East End

This West Virginia Public Broadcasting aired Jan. 3. It highlights the efforts of East End Main Street, a program of the Charleston Area Alliance.

By Erica Peterson

It’s a cold day on Charleston’s East End, an area between the state Capitol and downtown. Traffic is rumbling by on Washington Street as Ric Cavender stops to point upwards.

“As you’re walking down you’ll notice the streetscape poles, the lampposts,” he says.

Cavender is program director of East End Main Street, an economic development program sponsored by the Charleston Area Alliance. He says the lampposts are one of the small aesthetic improvements his group has helped bring about. Others are the three murals that brighten up the sides of buildings.

“Public art, it brings not only new life to the district and new color to the district but it also can spur economic development,” Cavender said. “It lets people know that there’s a group that’s trying to do good here.”

Leonoro’s Spaghetti House has been on Washington Street for 37 years. Co-owner Al Leonoro says things are changing for the better.

“The neighborhood is changed dramatically, I think,” Leonoro said. “It’s much better than it used to be but it’s inner city, so you have your problems but by the same token, we’ve done really well. Things are improving—that’s the main thing. The police, I think, installed some cameras here about a year or so ago, surveillance cameras. We’ve seen a big difference since those came in, with things kind of cooling down quite a bit.”

In recent years, a few new businesses have moved in. A dog park was created in a vacant lot. But there are still empty buildings.

Patrick Brown is director of the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority. He says the East End is important to Charleston’s overall image, partly because it might be the only part of the city out-of-town visitors to the Capitol see.

Much of his effort over the past year has been focused on the revitalization of one crucial intersection.

“We consider Elizabeth and Washington to be a really key intersection of Washington Street in the East End, and two buildings have been sitting there vacant for years,” Brown said.

“Not very good-looking buildings, run down. And so in our urban renewal plan for that area, which was approved by City Council, we had the authority to give them six months notice to fix the building up. And if they didn’t, we could buy it if we chose.”

Now one of the buildings—the New China building—is cleaned up and ready for a tenant. But across the street, the city has started eminent domain proceedings on another abandoned structure.

That corner—Elizabeth and Washington—is anchored by one of Keeley Steele’s restaurants. Steele and her husband John own two restaurants and a bakery, all fairly recent additions to the East End. She says they love the neighborhood.

“I think because of the diversity, and it’s an eclectic neighborhood,” she said. “It’s one of the few really walkable neighborhoods.”

(more…)

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