urban-league-of-broward-county-community-empowerment-center_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

FORT LAUDERDALE — A new phase of construction near Fort Lauderdale’s Sistrunk Corridor is ready to begin and the developers are already anticipating it will spark development of the historic boulevard.

After 10 years of planning, the Urban League of Broward County will break ground for its multi-million-dollar Community Empowerment Center on Tuesday, Nov. 16.

The 28,000-square-foot center will be constructed on half of the five-acre lot located on Northwest 27th Avenue just south of Sistrunk Blvd., adjacent to the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in unincorporated Broward County. The remaining land is owned by Broward County Parks and Recreation Division.

The League has secured a 40-year lease from the county for the land on which the center will be built at a cost of one dollar per year, said Shannon M. Carey, the League’s chief development and communications officer.

The construction contract was awarded to D. Stephenson Construction Inc. and work will begin later this month or early December, to be completed in January of 2012.

“We are excited about the fact that this 10-year dream is becoming a reality,” said Germaine Smith Baugh, president/CEO said. “This is the culmination of a strong foundation, compelling vision and the tenacity of volunteers, staff, and the board of directors, both past and present. We know the Community Empowerment Center is the right project at the right time for this community.”

The center will house all League staff  and programming and provide four times the space currently occupied. “But the work we do with the schools will remain in the schools,” said Carey.

The cost to construct the bi-level center is $5 million. A fundraising drive was started at the time the planning of the project began, Carey said.

“There were some issues during the years that temporarily halted the campaign but we kept the funds raised in a secure account; we wanted to continue the dream at some point,” said Carey. Earlier this year, “we decided this was the time and began fundraising again.”

Some of the money came from the League, most being income from investments, Carey said. JM Family Enterprises Inc. donated $1 million.

Hundreds of individuals and organizations donated to the project by way of  a $500,000 JM Family Challenge grant, Carey said. The donors include AutoNation, City Furniture, Samuel Morrison, W. George Allen and Huizenga Holdings.

Donators to the  original capital fund include Publix Super Market Charities, Office Depot, David & Francine Horvitz Family Foundation and Wachovia bank.

For more than a decade, JM Family has partnered with the League to help empower African Americans through education, economic instruction and community service, said Colin Brown, JM Family’s president and CEO.

“We are proud to support the new center which will allow them to reach out further into our community and provide the tools and services necessary to promote social and economic independence,” Brown said.

The League currently provides services to 7,000 Broward residents annually. With the new center, Carey said, the hope is to more than double that number to 15,000 with expanded services over the next three to five years.

“We don’t want to change our model; we want more people to access our programs,” she said.

The center will include private rooms for one-on-one counseling on special services, a 4,200-square-foot multi-purpose room that could be sectioned into four smaller rooms, a small training center and a bank of computers in a lab equipped with Wi-Fi.

Carey said the League does not plan to duplicate any of the features offered by the library that would be its neighbor.

“We want to be that place, that one stop, where we can connect people with or offer the resources they need,” she said.

For the League, she said, having the center was about making the community a stronger place.

“Being next to the library and Samuel Delevoe park would put the center in the best position to be the anchor for the new development on Sistrunk Boulevard.

“It will take time, but we are at the forefront,” Carey said.

Photo courtesy of Urban League of Broward County. Artist Rendering: Photo shows what the Urban League of Broward County’s Community Empowerment Center will look like after completion in 2012.