coleman_park.jpgWEST PALM BEACH — James Irving is on a mission to get people to realize the historical value of Coleman Park, a high-crime inner-city neighborhood. As a lifelong resident of West Palm Beach, and something of a historian on the once-thriving community, Irving is trying to convince the skeptics that the area, once known as Lincoln Park and formerly a bustling place for famous blacks from around the world, is not a terrible place to live.

But, although baseball legends such as Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Satchel Paige frequented the neighborhood when it hosted Negro League Baseball training, it’s a tough sell today.

“These legends used to come to West Palm Beach, to Lincoln Park, when they wouldn’t even go to Miami,” said Irving.

Today, however, the area is simply known for drug activity, shootings and loitering along its main corridor, Tamarind Avenue, which has the reputation of being the worst street in the city. 

But Irving, vice president of the Coleman Park Neighborhood Association, isn’t the only one who wants everyone to see value in Coleman Park and a viable option for potential homeowners. The city of West Palm Beach joined forces with Redemptive Life Urban Initiatives, under the leadership of the pastor, Bishop Harold Calvin Ray,  several years ago to build affordable housing and to revitalize the neighborhood.

Critics of the program have called city officials inept for pouring money into revitalizing an area where, they insist, no one wants to live and call the initiative ridiculous because of the current severe housing slump. The city has spent more than $3 million in federal stimulus money to buy five dozen lots and 19 new manufactured houses, most of which remain empty.

"It's frustrating," Mayor Jeri Muoio said. "We want homeowners in that area. From what I understand, [banks] are under-appreciating the land. The houses are well-built and worth the money built for them.”

It is not clear whether the houses remain empty due to the market or the crime in the neighborhood.

"Three years ago, the Coleman Park area was not as safe as it is now," Irving said. "It's still got that stigma. I constantly preach that we need to do more promoting for people to see how safe it is. It didn’t used to be that way. This street (Tamarind) was the epicenter of the community.” He cited stores, funeral homes, floral shops, doctors’ offices, the historical Roosevelt High School and the Dunbar Village Housing Project, which during the 1950s, was the preferred place to grow up for black residents.

Now, city officials want today’s generation of families to also be proud to call Coleman Park and surrounding areas home. They recently held a press conference in front of the lawn of a spacious two-story home, hoping a potential buyer would fall in love with it and its affordable price.

Daphne Taylor may be reached at