ronald_davis_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — A renaissance that is catching the eye of business owners is taking place in the northwest section of West Palm Beach. At the helm of the effort is the Northwest Community Consortium Inc. (NCCI), an umbrella organization of businesses and various groups.

NCCI Chairman Ronald Davis, Vice Chairwoman Lynn Solomon, an attorney, and treasurer the Rev. William Washington spearheaded the formation of the organization which initially included a small group of churches seeking to reduce crime and make the neighborhood safer.

Davis said the aim is to revitalize the historically African-American neighborhood that lies roughly between Clematis Street and the Northwood community.

 “Several businesses and organizations have worked over the years in trying to reduce crime in this area and bring back businesses,” he said. “Now we have a number of things going on: reduction of crime, housing, economic projects with kids, educational programs and senior programs.”

In the last 18 months, the neighborhood has been aided by the consortium working with the city and financial institutions to obtain grants and gain support from the community, Davis said.

Tony Garrett, owner of Garretts City Ribs, 309 Rosemary Ave., said he decided to start a business in the area to help with the revitalization.

“As a police officer in this area for the last 24 years, I see the potential and I’ve always been one who wants to come back into the community and give back,” Garrett said. “I just want to be a part of the mix and do my part in the community.”

NCCI received a check for $5,000 from Bank America at its Dec. 8 open house held at Cityside Suites, 401 N. Rosemary Ave.

Fabiola Brumley, the bank’s Palm Beach Market president, said there seemed to be a turnaround in residential housing and small businesses, as well as the overall economy in the area.

The Quantum Foundation also recently gave NCCI a $20,000 grant to support feeding programs at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, The American Legion, New Bethel Baptist Church and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church; each will receive $4,500. The consortium gets much of its support for operations from corporate partners, and also is eager to attract private capital.

Darren Studstill, 41, said he and his family opened Cityside Suites two years ago to give other small businesses an opportunity to start small and then grow. The company provides businesses with office space, supplies and community resources. Curently it has a barber shop that is expected to hire 10 people, a deli that is bringing in five new employees and an accountant for the tax season that may hire two or three employees.

“I’ve been actively engaged in redeveloping the Northwest area of West Palm Beach for about 10 years,” he said. “My late uncle, Ulysee Studstill, this was his dream, for African Americans to own a piece of property and also (to) engage other African Americans to start businesses.”

Studstill said job creation is pivotal and he anticipates 60 new jobs will be in place at Cityside Suites by August.

“When I think about Rosemary (Avenue), this was the like the Harlem of West Palm Beach back in the early ’50s and ’60s,” he said. “And we want to see professional African-American businesses such as lawyers, architects, doctors, accountants, those kind of industries, to lead the front.”

Studstill said auxiliary businesses will be included as well, but this group is actively recruiting “top-tier” businesses to return to the Northwest neighborhood in an effort to create a “Rosemary Renaissance.”

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, a guest speaker at the NCCI open house, pointed to the importance of economic development. She said she wants the Northwest area to be an extension of the downtown corridor.

“We want people to come from downtown to enjoy soul food, and maybe a nightclub,” she said. “We want to talk about how we’re going to take advantage of the unique cultural history that we have here.”

Photo: Ronald Davis