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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
''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
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.''
SIDEWALKS ARE FEW
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
''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
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'.''