RIVIERA BEACH — When Earl Pleasant purchased an empty lot seven years ago in western Riviera Beach, he had a dream. He wanted to make life comfortable for himself and his wife, Margaret, after they retired.
A ceramic tile contractor by trade, Pleasant also wanted to keep busy and thought a family business providing good customer service would be perfect.
The result is Pleasant Plaza and on Sept. 16, a blessing ceremony was held at the corner of West 27th Street and Old Dixie Highway where the project will be built.
It will be the first new retail construction in the city’s core in more than 20 years.
Pleasant, 67, said when he purchased the land in 2005 he paid $135,000 for it without his wife’s knowledge.
“I think it was God’s will for me to purchase this property so my wife and I could have something to do in retirement,” he said.
The community is not lacking in black enterprises but it is behind, Pleasant said. Businesses in the area are owned by individuals from many diverse cultures.
Pleasant thinks his business plaza could be an incentive for young African Americans to pursue their own entrepreneurial endeavors.
In fact, a former client, Ralph V. “Trip” Moore III, Northern Trust Bank’s senior vice president, for whom he did tile work in 2009, helped Pleasant secure a $243,000 loan for the project center.
“I met Earl when he was doing work at my house. I immediately liked him and got a really good feeling from him,” Moore said.
“Saw him work. Saw his work ethic. Saw the quality of his work. I could tell that he was someone who was proud of what he did.”
Moore said Pleasant seemed like a man of good character and he was very excited to hear about the retail project.
“The city of Riviera Beach and federal funding make it all very doable because it helps Earl get the equity base he needs,” he said. “It’s a very viable project that doesn’t have too much conventional debt.”
Local and federal grants will supplement the loan to help complete the plaza by early next year, Riviera Beach Housing Coordinator John Green said.
Green said Pleasant received a grant for $297,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
”It’s called an EDI — economic development initiative. We got it back in 2006,” he said. “We had another project in mind but that project did not materialize. This project was already on the drawing board so we asked to transfer the money over.”
The plaza will add jobs to an area that has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy, Riviera Beach Councilman Cedrick Thomas said.
“Given the economic climate of our country, any time we can put together any kind of construction project, that puts a lot of individuals to work,” Thomas said. “From the masonry, to plumbers, to the electricians, there’s a wide range. Those types of jobs directly affect our city.”
Thomas said many people are looking for work due to the loss of construction jobs live in Riviera.
All-Site Construction owner Ezra Saffold said he has hired 25 employees as sub-contractors and more will be needed to complete the Pleasant Plaza project.
“There’s going to be four different retail shops. Each shop with maybe five to 10 employees. You do the math,” he said. “We have about five more contractors to hire, each one with about one to two employees, residents of Riviera Beach.”
Riviera Beach City Council Chairwoman Pro-Tem Billie E. Brooks said she thinks the community will reap numerous benefits from Pleasant Plaza.
“With the completion of the project, we’re talking about the creation of minority jobs in the neighborhood,” she said. “We are going to get the word out so that people on the west side of Riviera [Beach] can see that their tax dollars are going to benefit their neighborhoods as well.”
Pleasant said the plaza will have a barbershop, and possibly a dress shop and he is open to including an insurance company and/or lawyer’s office.
He said everyone in the retail space is going to be there to serve the community and provide good customer service.
“We are trying to bring back customer service. My son, Gary Feam, and I believe that’s important in business,” Pleasant said. “We want to bring back an image. When I came up, there were all black businesses. We want to bring that back.”
The 4,000-square-foot, four-unit commercial center is scheduled to be completed by February and will have 21 parking spaces.
Photo: Alan Luby/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES
HAVING A CHAT: From left, Margaret Pleasant and her husband Earl Pleasant chat with a guest during a blessing ceremony at the site of Pleasant Plaza in Riviera Beach.