Dianna Ward had a vision for her neighborhood: Build a legacy of prosperity in the Historic West End and improve the quality of life for residents.
With an interest in commercial real estate development and to be the change she wanted to see, Ward formed the development firm Sankofa Partners alongside associates with backgrounds in real estate and finance. The firm purchased its first property in 2019, a building at 1800 Rozzelles Ferry Road, near the intersection of Beatties Ford Road, West Fifth Street, West Trade Street, State Street and Rozzelles Ferry Road — the area known as Five Points.
After some building renovations, Sankofa Partners moved in its tenants, Rita’s Italian Ice, Jets Pizza, and Premier Pharmacy and Wellness Center — all businesses owned by people of color, a strategic choice by Ward and her team.
“A lot business wanted to be a part of this project … more predatory than not, but I did not want that,” Ward said. “We were very intentional in selecting the business that would be part of this project.”
It was a large undertaking, especially because it was her first commercial development project, said Ward, who also operates the bike share program Charlotte Joy Rides and Segway tour operations in multiple cities.
But in a testament to the firm’s intentional, community-focused work, Sankofa Partners is now backed by financial support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the City of Charlotte.
In October, Knight Foundation and the Charlotte chapter of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) announced Knight would make $450,000 in capital available to LISC to provide Sankofa Partners with low-cost financing and technical assistance. The city also contributed $280,000 towards the project in the form of a $100,000 Community Development Grant and $180,000 in
Business Matching Grants.
“If it wasn’t for grants from the city, Knight Foundation and LISC, this would not have been possible,” Ward said.
Five Points is an area of strategic investment for city government as well as private developers. It lies within the
Beatties Ford Road/Rozzelles Ferry Road Corridor of Opportunity, part of a
City of Charlotte program to strengthen local business development, placemaking and public-private partnerships in areas with historically low investment. In particular, the city targets new investments at street intersections like Five Points so that prosperity can ripple to the surrounding community.
Under the Corridors of Opportunity initiative, the city is constructing
Five Points Plaza adjacent to the Sankofa Partners property. The plaza will serve as a new space for community activity and entertainment that reflects the neighborhood's identity and history. It is funded by $5.5 million from the city’s
West Trade/Rozzelles Ferry Comprehensive Neighborhood Investment Plan, which connects Charlotte’s west side neighborhoods with employment, institutional and retail areas by investing in transit, streets, sidewalks, greenways and bike lanes. Additional funding comes from Knight Foundation, which awarded the city a three-year, $394,200 grant in February 2020 to program and plan events at the plaza.
“The city supports the equitable development of the Beatties Ford corridor through intentional investment in infrastructure, small business development, affordable and safe housing, and active public spaces,” said Cherie Smith, program manager for the Corridors of Opportunity. “These investments and partnerships will cultivate prosperity, strengthen the community, and build a legacy that benefits neighbors and businesses for generations to come.”