Some years ago, a narcotics dealer bought the old Westover shopping center in Charlotte, N.C. Evidently, according to police, his idea was not so much to collect rent, as to deal drugs and launder money.

By 1991, the center was “95 percent vacant, an eyesore and a blighted property,” recalls Edwin Thomas, a developer for the Charlotte Mecklenberg Development Co. (CMDC), a publicly funded organization that eventually redeveloped the property. It was also a brownfield site, thanks to contaminants left by a dry cleaner.

“The community was looking for something comparable to a development in the suburbs, but the development actually needed to fit within the context of the community,” says William Keen, principal and senior vice president of Clark Nexsen Architecture & Engineering, the local office of a Virginia architecture firm retained to design Westover's replacement.

Now called City West Commons, the center is notable for its attention to security. A police substation was built on the back part of the grounds, with storefronts opening to the parking area, which for safety and visibility, was built between the police station and the shops.

The developer focused on providing “neighborhood businesses,” says Keen. The anchor is a Family Dollar store. Among the 13 other tenants are a cafeteria, a game store, a hair salon, a barbershop, a dry cleaner and a Jack In The Box on an adjacent parcel.

Space there now rents for approximately $15 a square foot, says Valerie Kruse of CMDC. The incremental contribution of taxes to the city is $2,148,000 for the center and $165,000 for the outparcel. That's more than double the taxable value of the property in 1998, says Patrick De'Angelo Cannon, Charlotte Mayor pro tem.

The revitalized shopping center has helped revitalize the neighborhood. Occupancy rates in nearby low-income housing “have increased dramatically,” as people now try to move into the neighborhood, Thomas says.

“Housing is definitely coming back in the area,” adds Cannon, who points to other improvements such as herringbone brick at major intersections and wrought-iron fencing as decorative new neighborhood features. “This redevelopment is a textbook example of how it can be done any place in the country, if people want change to occur.” Cannon says.