Skeptics are hopeful but point out the many failed efforts in the past to beautify N Greenwood Avenue.
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 23, 2001
CLEARWATER -- In three weeks, Clearwater will break ground on a $1.1-million overhaul of N Greenwood Avenue that will add new sidewalks, brick crosswalks, decorative streetlights and more benches.
It's a project designed to economically redevelop the area and make it look a lot better, city Engineer Mike Quillen said.
But for people such as MacArthur Boykins, who opened MaccaBee's Restaurant & Lounge on N Greenwood Avenue six years ago, the project has been met with everything from enthusiasm to skepticism, given that past redevelopment efforts have not resulted in sweeping change.
"I'm extremely hopeful the city will make good on its old commitment to create the kind of environment here that will support commercial establishments on Greenwood (Avenue)," Boykins said. "I would rather reinvigorate my belief these things are going to happen than say anything critical."
Boykins, who has had to focus on alcohol sales for his business to survive, said he is now preparing to add seating and expand MaccaBee's restaurant menu. He's also added outdoor tables with umbrellas.
"I'm simply determined," he said.
Yvette Pendleton runs Big Jim's Barbecue. She is waiting to see what happens. N Greenwood Avenue, with older buildings, vacant lots and only a handful of remaining businesses, needs sprucing up.
"We've waited this long, so we can wait just a little bit longer," she said.
When the project is finished in June 2002, landscaped medians with palm trees will line the roadway's center, from Seminole to Marshall streets. Oak trees will flank the avenue's sides. A small roundabout will be created at Palmetto Street and N Greenwood Avenue, to slow traffic and make the crossroads safer.
In addition to $1.1-million being spent on street improvements, another $1-million is being spent to lay a reclaimed water pipe down N Greenwood Avenue so the city can water roadway landscape, city officials say.
It also will allow the city to pipe reclaimed water to downtown businesses such as IMRglobal Corp.'s offices. The city will not allow North Greenwood residents to use the water for their lawns, however, until 2015.
During the road's overhaul, segments of N Greenwood Avenue will be closed to traffic, with detours on Myrtle Avenue and Betty Lane, Quillen said.
Neighborhood improvements extend beyond the road. A new city recreation center, branch library and redevelopment of dilapidated North Greenwood Apartments will occur within a year.
The city also is spending $70,000 to develop another economic redevelopment plan for North Greenwood. The goal: strengthen existing businesses, create jobs and attract new businesses to the area, including the land where Jack Russell Stadium is.
Talk of another plan doesn't thrill Tal Rutledge, who ran a coin laundry and ice cream shop on the avenue, until he retired last year. Rutledge, a past president of the neighborhood's association, has some doubts about the city's initiatives.
"I'm just waiting to see what's going to go down," Rutledge said.
Some people are skeptical, said Jonathan Wade, president of the North Greenwood Association, because "it takes too long between when they're told something is going to happen and when the project comes to fruition."
"We've been studied and studied and studied, and I think folks are ready for some action," Wade said.
Even so, Wade sounds optimistic about upcoming work on N Greenwood Avenue. When he was a kid and the city was segregated, the street was the main commercial corridor for the city's African-American community, he said. Restaurants, service stations, barbers, funeral parlors and taverns lined the street. They were decorated with lights during the Christmas season.
But over the past 30 years, the corridor gradually declined, as more well-to-do people moved out. What's left is the highest concentration of low-income residents in one area within Clearwater, city studies show. At the same time, new shopping centers competed with North Greenwood's small business area, which was off the beaten path.
In recent years, there have been improvements, business owners said. A community health clinic opened on a polluted piece of land the city cleaned up. Cherry Harris Park was renovated.
Yes, problems remain. Business owners have complained about drugs being sold on the street. And even with the beautification project, negative images about the area could be hard to change, they said.
But for Wael Salhab, who has run the Greenwood Food Mart for 10 years, there is hope.
"It's about time to see some change," he said.
The city has studied N Greenwood Avenue for years in hopes of improving the area.
1988: North Greenwood Commercial District General Development Plan. Found a limited market for new businesses on Greenwood Avenue such as fast food, barbershop, shoe repair, women's apparel or an accountant. Suggested city add new sidewalks, trees and public parking.
1994: North Greenwood Commercial District & Economic Development Opportunities. Defined obstacles to redevelopment: small lot sizes, lack of parking, crime and poor appearance. Recommended facelift of Greenwood Avenue and outlined development strategies.
1996: North Greenwood Community Task Team Action Plan. Upset over a huge water tank built in their area, residents asked the city to create job training, dredge Stevensons Creek, landscape near the tank, improve policing and beautify Greenwood Avenue.
1998: Greenwood Neighborhood Initiatives. City promised old ideas would be tackled in "near future." Major tasks: Cherry Harris Park renovation, construction of new branch library and recreation center, Stevensons Creek restoration and street beautification.