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Oct. 08, 2002 - Miami Herald

Hallandale finally advances toward revitalizing Foster Road
By Hector Florin

The Northwest Fifth Street and Foster Road intersection serves as a microcosm of how neglect has crippled Hallandale Beach's historic black community -- and how that community may be in the midst of a turnaround.

Across from a drug-infested, two-story apartment complex recently shut down by the city is a new community outreach center. A vacant lot on the southeast corner is being eyed as the future site of townhouses.

Along Foster Road, the main thoroughfare through northwest Hallandale Beach, new bus shelters, brighter street lighting and brick-paved crosswalks will soon be installed.

After a stumbling start -- including thousands of dollars spent on a consultant's study that no one liked -- the city is finally making progress toward rehabilitating the blighted corridor.

Community activists acknowledge Foster Road has a long way to go, but they see hopeful signs.

''We've got to start from somewhere,'' said the Rev. Josh Brown, president of the Northwest Community Civic Association, which has fought for improvements to the area for decades. ``We've been neglected for 30 years. Now, people are genuinely happy.''

Foster Road wasn't always so troubled. Many who live in northwest Hallandale Beach remember when James Brown and Ray Charles played to the crowds at The Palms, a now-defunct nightclub; and when the Ace Theater -- demolished earlier this year -- was one of the few black-only movie theaters in segregation-era Broward.

But that vitality faded about the 1970s. Those were the boom years for condos rising along the city's beachfront. The condos lured thousands of new residents, most of them white, many of them former New Yorkers with a passion for politics.

City commissions reflected this demographic shift. Except for a two-term stint in the 1970s by John Saunders, the City Commission had no black representation.

Over the years, black residents accused the City Commission of funneling money to the eastern side of the city, where the commission's tax and political base lived.

''People forget northwest and southwest Hallandale is where the core of the city was found,'' said William Julian, who has been seen as the commissioner most willing to consider the community's grievances since his election in March 2001. ``The northwest has been in a time warp. Nothing has been done.''


The contrasts are striking: A few miles west of the beachfront high-rises, sidewalks are few, swale areas are dying, trees are sparse, code violations persist and windows stay boarded.

''It was a clean place, and now it's dirty,'' said Rovina Williams, 41, who lives a block from Foster Road. ``It's vacant, decrepit. People are sleeping under trees, hanging out at street corners.''

The $400,000 slated to improve Foster Road's appearance is key to luring business into the area and promoting redevelopment, city officials and community activists say.

City officials last year chose to go with national consultant Harrison Rue to draw up a Foster Road revitalization plan.

In sketching out his vision, Rue talked of ''new urbanism'' and ''smart growth.'' But commissioners and others agreed that his plan for the neighborhood did not fit.

''His project might have worked in some cities, but not in ours,'' Julian said.

Mike Good, Hallandale Beach's public works and utilities director, took over the project, heard from the community at three separate community workshops over the summer, and got the projects swiftly approved by the commission last month.

In addition to aesthetic improvements to the street, the city is acquiring vacant home lots and commercial sites in hope of selling them to developers. At the most recent commission meeting, the commission approved buying 11 lots, with more to come from a fund of $750,000.

''It's a good joint effort,'' said Christy Dominguez, assistant growth management director. ``Doing this all at the same time works, too.''


Brown, the Northwest Community Civic Association president, said he has received calls from prospective investors seeking to work along Foster Road.

''[Homes and businesses] can't come in until the atmosphere's changed,'' Brown said. ``Who wants to invest in what it looks like now? Let's give the investors something they can look at.''

This year, the Rev. Anthony Sanders opened the Eagle's Wings Development Center at 501 Foster Rd., site of a long-abandoned restaurant.

Sanders wants to turn the center into a sort of hub to assist those pursuing their high school equivalency degree, job interview skills and drug and alcohol counseling.

Its location is pivotal -- across from the troubled apartment complex that was condemned. It is several hundred feet from the intersection with Dixie Highway, the gateway to Foster Road.

A $30,000 welcome sign is planned for that gateway. But it's not certain what the sign will say. Hallandale High School students have been asked to participate in a contest to rename the area.

Whatever it is ultimately called, Foster Road remains the heart of a community rich in history. Those who remember the boom times of The Palms and the Ace Theater hope to see a new heyday.

''The older people, they're finally going to wake up one morning and see a turnaround,'' Brown said. ``They're going to say, `It's coming back. It's finally coming back'.''