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Miami Herald - December 1, 2006

Project aims to revitalize Second Avenue
Businessmen, community leaders and residents have launched a new initiative to restore Northeast Second Avenue to its glory days as a commercial hub.

By Tania Valdemoro

On his daily morning drive to work in Little Haiti, Samuel Diller sees vacant land, dilapidated buildings and street merchants selling peanuts and paper towels.

The sights remind him of the entrepreneurial spirit of its people and of the declining quality of the neighborhood. He can't help but ask himself, ``What can I do to improve Little Haiti?''

Several community leaders, business leaders and residents with those same concerns came together with Diller, the executive director of Little Haiti Housing Association, last year to form the Northeast Second Avenue Partnership.

Participants include the Biscayne Boulevard Chamber of Commerce, Little Haiti Redevelopment Group, Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center and the Little Haiti Neighborhood Enhancement Team.

''In the 1960s and 1970s, Northeast Second Avenue was a vibrant economic corridor. The whole vision is to create a sense of place,'' Diller said.

For the past year, the partnership developed the North East 2nd Avenue Revitalization Project, whose purpose is to redevelop the commercial corridor along Northeast Second Avenue from 79th Street to the Little River, a process that would take 15 to 20 years.

According to a draft report, a more stable environment in Little Haiti would provide opportunities for economic growth and make the neighborhood a more attractive place for residents to stay and get involved.

The vision of the project is to encourage mixed-use and mixed-income developments; renovate existing buildings, restore historically significant structures; and bring in new businesses that complement rather than compete with existing businesses, the draft report said.

John Meyer, president of the Northeast Second Avenue Partnership, said the project aims to spur the area's economic development along four dimensions following a statewide model of downtown revitalization program called Florida Main Street.

Meyer said he is encouraged that County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones have each said they like what the partnership is trying to achieve.

Still, there is a lot of work to be done, he admits.

The partnership is now talking to business owners and managers to gauge their interest in being part of the project.

The group is also applying for grants and meeting with potential donors. It is also recruiting volunteers to work on any of four committees: organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring.

The group plans to host a street event to raise people's awareness of the project in the near future, but a date has not been set, Meyer said.