A Dream Deferred

After a decade in office, Carlton Moore hasn't done much for Fort Lauderdale's poorest residents. But he has helped himself.

Moore acknowledges that his redevelopment effort has been a struggle, but he nonetheless rattles off a list of achievements that is most remarkable for its brevity. Even less impressive is the way he's used his political clout to secure business deals and job opportunities aimed at reviving his troubled finances, including nine lackluster years as an investigator with the public defender's office. Strained by a string of business ventures gone bad, Moore's financial failures mirror the economic woes of the community that elected him.

When he first took office a decade ago, Moore's section of Fort Lauderdale was the city's lowest financial priority. Located west of Andrews Avenue and north of Broward Boulevard, the two square miles of real estate were assessed in a 1989 report as a "war zone" saddled with a crack-cocaine epidemic, a population that had plummeted more than 50 percent (by about 10,000 residents) in 15 years, and a home-ownership rate that was less than half the city's average of 56 percent. Moore's challenge was to reinvigorate the community, replace the crumbling infrastructure -- including such basics as streetlights, sidewalks, and plumbing -- and establish economic incentives to draw mainstream businesses to invest. The city's report put the estimated cost of rejuvenation in the northwest at a whopping $357 million. The state donated $200,000, and while the city has channeled millions of dollars to other parts of Fort Lauderdale -- refurbishing the Riverwalk, beachfront, and downtown areas -- Moore's predominantly black chunk of the city remains largely neglected.

"Government can only do so much," says Moore, sucking on a Kool menthol cigarette and leaning back in a padded chair in his cluttered city hall office. "It takes the private sector to come in and create jobs. When you have an area that is impoverished and with low education levels, businesses do not tend to run to those areas. So have the investors come to the magnitude I would like to see? No. Will they come? Yes, I believe they will."

To attract those businesses, Moore a few years back helped lobby for federal funds to set up a tax-free "enterprise zone" along the Sistrunk corridor. Enterprise zones are designed to draw wary investors to blighted inner-city neighborhoods, but in Moore's district they have had little impact. "These programs are not user-friendly," says Bobby Henry. "People don't know how to take advantage of them. For people in this community, it's like going straight from Economics 101 to graduation."

Although Sistrunk Boulevard hasn't changed much since Moore first took office, one bright light does exist at the far eastern end of the street. Secure behind thick iron gates is the $40 million Regal Trace apartment complex, some 400 low-rise garden apartments rented to low-income families. The apartments were built on land once occupied by the rundown homes of more than 1500 families, all of whom were handed federal relocation funds in the mid-'80s (before Moore took office). The old neighborhood was razed to make room for redevelopment proposals being considered by the city at the time, proposals that included plans to build shops, apartments, and single-family homes.

When Moore took office in 1988, the land had been sitting fallow for years, awaiting viable redevelopment ideas upon which the commission could agree. In an ill-fated move, Moore pushed hard for the city to approve the plans of Texas developer Leonard Briscoe, who wanted to build garden apartments on the site. Briscoe was later forced off the project after he was convicted of bribing a Housing and Urban Development official in Washington, D.C. Dania developer Milton Jones took over in the early '90s and finally broke ground in 1994. This year he began leasing apartments to families earning less than $22,000 a year. The completed complex, with its swimming pool, tennis courts, and well-groomed landscaping, stands in stark contrast to many of its neighbors, like the abandoned shell of a building next door, a dank structure littered with broken bottles and mildewed newspapers that serves as a shelter for a homeless couple.

While Jerry Kolo applauds Regal Trace and neighboring developments like the new post office on Seventh Avenue and the Family Health Center across the street, he says they amount to far too little, far too late.

"Physically those projects have an impact," he says. "But socially and economically they don't, which should be the true test of redevelopment projects. These physical improvements do not get to the basic concerns of the residents, which are with well-paying jobs; businesses they can operate profitably; infrastructure for good housing; safety; recreation and child-care facilities; transportation to other parts of the city; and environmental issues. There is no overall coherent strategic plan for the economic revitalization of the area, and that is obvious. Carlton Moore is a dynamic guy, but, in terms of the technical insights of what would work, he needs to do a better job at pulling the appropriate people and teams together."

Moore's magnetism, not his technical expertise, is what landed him in politics in the first place. "He was always the leader among his friends," recalls his mother, Ada Moore, a former recreation counselor with the city's parks department who was a sort of surrogate mom for many kids in Moore's childhood neighborhood, a lower-middle-class enclave just beyond the Fort Lauderdale city limits. "Because of his leadership in high school, people encouraged him to move into politics," she continues. "He never really said anything about politics growing up. I think he sort of fell into that. He always wanted to be a businessman, to own his own business. He wanted to make money."

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