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

Plans for the development of Northwest 27th Avenue just south of Fort Lauderdale’s historic Sistrunk Corridor got a big boost when the Urban League of Broward County broke ground Nov. 16 for its $5 million dollar Community Empowerment Center.

The 28,000-square-foot center will be constructed on half of a five-acre lot located at 560 NW 27th Ave. just south of historic Sistrunk Boulevard, 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 secured a 40-year lease from the county for the land on which the center will be built, at a cost of one dollar a year, said Shannon M. Carey, the League’s chief development and communications officer.

Colin Brown, president/CEO of JM Family Enterprises, handed over a check for $40 to Germaine Smith-Baugh, the League’s president/CEO, for the full payment on the lease. The company had already donated $1 million toward the center's construction.

The League awarded the construction contract to D. Stephenson Construction Inc., headed by former Miami Dolphins player Dwight Stephenson. Work will begin later this month or early December, to be completed in January 2012.

“This is an exhilarating and nerve-wracking time for the organization,” said Smith-Baugh. “This is the biggest project we have ever undertaken but we are confident that it is the right thing to do for the Urban League and for the community who desperately needs our services.”

Dennis Smith, the League’s board chairman, no relation to Smith-Baugh, said the organization plays a role not only in the African-American community but also in the community at large.

A number of the League’s programs, Smith said, “will extend throughout the county and this building will help us achieve that.”

County Commissioner John E. Rodstrom Jr. of District 7 said he wanted to improve 27th Avenue and he described the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center as “our crown jewel” adding, “We want the Urban League on the campus and providing programs forever.”

The ground breaking took place after 10 years of planning and raising funds. The aim of locating the Empowerment Center on land near the Research Library and Samuel Delevoe Park is to create a campus-like atmosphere for empowerment in the area, Smith-Baugh said.

The library is interested in developing programs with the League, according to Julie Hunter, Broward County Library’s associate director for public service. “We can share resources, facilities, possessions and ideas, especially in the arts,” she said.

Hunter said she envisions a “three-head corner that’s second to none for all the children. When they come to the campus, so much can be offered to them.”

A fence around the library’s southern perimeter will be removed to allow open access between the two organizations, Hunter said.

Life-long Fort Lauderdale area resident Viola Jarvis-Macomb, 64, was pleased to see improvement coming to 27th Avenue.

“I will feel safer knowing that there will be more action, more people and positive surroundings,” said Jarvis-Macomb, who said she walks most mornings with a friend to Delevoe Park.

“This development will be good for everyone,” she said.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.