In 1987, Optimist Park was a down-on-its-luck Uptown neighborhood, burdened by substandard housing, violence and drug dealers. That was the year Charlotte's Habitat for Humanity chapter, under the leadership of Susan Hancock, decided to go all out in Optimist Park. Habitat got the Jimmy Carter Work Project and more than 200 volunteers to come to the embattled Charlotte neighborhood that July and build an entire block, comprising 14 new houses.
During a five-day house-building blitz, the former president and Rosalynn Carter joined the rest of the workers, broke a sweat and talked to a lot of reporters. The presidential pair's presence brought members of the national press to town, so we at the fledgling, three-month-old Creative Loafing had to do a lot of convincing to get press credentials for the shindig.
The atmosphere at the building site was energetic, busy and even inspiring. This news newbie got to sit and talk with Jimmy Carter, and the resulting story graced our cover the next week. Not bad for a brand-new publication.
Since then, Optimist Park has had its ups and downs (for instance, the man who bought the house President Carter helped build let it go into foreclosure). But the Carter Project opened the floodgates for Habitat Charlotte's expansion, resulting in more Habitat homes in Optimist Park, as well as a small recreation area for the neighborhood.