RIVIERA BEACH — The oldest neighborhood in Riviera Beach, known as Riviera Beach Heights, is about to get a facelift.
A $1.1 million infrastructure project, which is expected to be approved by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Board of Commissioners, will include a community garden park, a linear park and health trail, as well as new sidewalks and lighting.
The area, once known as “Veteran’s Quarters,” has been neglected for a long time and has turned into what residents, who have called for improvements, have described as an eyesore.
The CRA, along with the Riviera Beach Community Development Corporation (CDC), is proposing to construct and manage the project in keeping with the Riviera Beach Heights Implementation Plan, which the CRA board approved in April 2012. The project is expected to get final approval on June 11, with construction to begin immediately afterward, lasting six months.
The biggest problem facing residents of the neighborhood is poverty, says Elizabeth Robinson, chairwoman of the CDC, which is the non-profit arm of the CRA.
“It’s a food desert. There’s no food services in that community,” Robinson said. “Streets don’t have sidewalks or lighting. Some homes are in desperate need of repairs. It’s an old, close-knit community and the people there don’t deserve this.”
Phase 1 is intended to address some of those concerns. The community garden park, which will be located on a currently vacant lot and an adjacent city-owned right of way, is expected to accomplish several goals.
This includes beautifying the area, improving the environment with plants and flowers, producing healthy and affordable food, creating jobs for unemployed low income youth, and reducing crime by eliminating a hangout for illicit activity. A master gardener will be hired to upkeep the garden and youth will be hired to assist with it, as well. The linear park and health trail will be located on an informal pathway and another city-owned but unused right-of-way.
Tony Brown, executive director of the CRA, expects the linear park/health trail will be a catalyst for comprehensive neighborhood revitalization and a model for other nondescript and unkempt parcels. The park/trail is also expected to beautify the area and improve the environment by adding shade trees and flowers, creating an inviting space for residents and children to take walks.
It will also improve safety in the area with the installation of lights and construction of a paved path. The neighborhood is currently plagued by numerous dead end right-of-ways and easements.
Simultaneously, Brown said, the project proposes to install 8,873 square yards of new sidewalks, except for streets that already have new sidewalks and those that are part of a planned Florida Department of Transportation expansion project slated to begin in 2015. All other existing sidewalks will be replaced and new ones installed where they are currently missing.
“The project is a significant symbol of the commitment the city has made to the neighborhood,” Robinson said. “Residents on the mainland (the predominantly black side of the city), had been neglected and several years ago the commission and staff made a commitment … to have a plan and implement it. It would mean a major improvement and a step forward with revitalization – a source of pride. It’s a testament to the forward movement of Riviera Beach,” she said.
Annetta Jenkins, director of Neighborhood Services with the CRA, said this project is what residents want, adding, “And now we’re looking to get Phase 1 off the ground in a couple of weeks.”
“We’re bringing beautification, increasing walkability and making it safer for
people to walk around. With these three projects, it will be catalytic for other revitalization projects,” Jenkins said.
Phase 2 will include more lighting and beautification and housing, Jenkins said. That’s expected to follow the completion of the first phase and also has to get final approval.