Hundreds of residents crowded Sixth Street on Friday for the city of Fort Lauderdale’s third annual Sistrunk Boulevard Holiday Festival, where the band played Christmas carols, children posed for pictures with Santa Claus, jumped around in bounce houses and frolicked in man-made snow before receiving a toy.
And as the sun went down, Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Bobby DuBose counted down the seconds before a 20-foot Christmas tree was illuminated—to the crowd’s delight.
It is now officially Christmas in Fort Lauderdale.
“For years, we’ve done this on Las Olas and other parts of the city but [this year] we had to make sure we bring the holiday celebration home to our community,” said state Sen. Christopher L. “Chris” Smith, D-District 29. “While we are trying to generate economic development and bring people to the [Sistrunk] Corridor, it is also for the residents to celebrate our community as Sistrunk is a vital part of the city.”
The gathering, which was perhaps the largest and most sociable, not only ushered in the holidays, but also launched the city’s centennial anniversary celebrations. Many, like Helen Hamm, a 70-year resident, were glad to sit in the street with neighbors and have a good time.
“Oh, it means a lot,” Hamm said in an interview. “A long time ago, everybody met on Sistrunk; everybody visited. Everything we had to do we had to come to Sistrunk Boulevard.”
The Sistrunk Corridor has changed dramatically since its past prominence when it boasted bustling black-owned businesses. Today, the throughway seems to epitomize an African-American legacy gone awry.
That is about to change, according to Alfred Battle, director of the city of Fort Lauderdale Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).
Restoration projects have been going on for many years in the neighborhood. Businesses such as the Midtown Commerce Center, host of urban art shows, the CRA, the African American Research Library and Cultural Center, the offices of Smith and state Rep. Perry E. Thurston Jr., D-District 93, have emerged in efforts to revitalize the community as the hub of black businesses and culture. Now the historic black community is poised to undergo a major facelift to transform the street along the lines of Las Olas Boulevard, with its own shops and sidewalk bistros.
The NE/NW 6th Street/Sistrunk Boulevard 16-month Project will redesign the Corridor to feature a three-lane traffic design, more on-street parking, buried utility lines, median and landscape enhancements, decorative street lights, wider sidewalks and better bus shelters.
“As we illuminate the Corridor and as we celebrate the dawn of this city’s centennial, it is only appropriate that we include the Sistrunk Corridor,” DuBose said in his address to the gathering. “There was once a time when there was very strong commerce up and down Sistrunk Boulevard. Everything you needed was right here. The very street you stand on was a destination and not a pass-through. This was and always will be the heart of the black community.”
Tracy-Ann Taylor may be reached at Tayltra9@aol.com.