The People's Republic of Area A

A group of neighborhood leaders prepares to declare independence and start Broward's first black-majority city

Clarence Wright, vice president of the St. George Homeowners Association, lives in a house that didn't show on the Gateway 7 plan map: Its location was blotted out by the capital C in the word Criminals. Still, when Wright first heard about the wall, he was all for it. "You know, they were talking about closing streets, and I had no problems with that. That's the same thing they do in gated communities. Cuts down on crime."

But then he attended one of the meetings at which the plan was being discussed and heard them "talking as if they'd never set foot in this neighborhood -- and never intended to, either." It put him off.

Has anything in the Plantation attitude toward Area A changed? Apparently not. "They just steal, you know," says a Plantation restaurant owner who didn't want his name used. He's referring to the residents of Area A. "That's why you can't run a business over there [along 441]. You get ripped off."

That attitude is news to Celesson Ertilus, a baker. He doesn't disagree that it's hard to run a business along 441, but it's not because of thieves running wild. It's because "the city of Plantation treats you as if they don't want you to succeed."

Today, the mall where Ertilus' bakery stands is largely empty. On a recent Saturday midafternoon, fewer than a dozen cars were parked in the enormous parking lot for the Westgate Shopping Center on the northwest corner of the intersection. Except for a few small offbeat shops -- Shirley's Salon, Basket Fiesta, Inter-Caribbean Freight, among them -- the lots were empty.

What is the city of Plantation doing to encourage investment in the area? Not much, says Hillier, who two weeks ago organized a march along with several other candidates for the Plantation city commission. (The election will be held next month.) The march, the route of which led along the Highway 441 corridor, was designed to call attention to what Hillier called the city's long-standing neglect of its eastern border.

Did it have an impact? Seemingly not. "Look at this turnout," sighed a city commission candidate at one point. "Pathetic, isn't it?"

The residents of Area A have only one option for maximizing their political power, says Major. Sticking together. The theme of his campaign is unity, and his ability to maintain it will determine his chances of success.

With incorporation having such strong opponents as Eggelletion and Moore, only by demonstrating a strong and consistent grassroots stand will the campaign have a chance of succeeding.

But any new city in the heart of Area A is going to have to take back not only the 441 corridor but probably parts of Fort Lauderdale west of the interstate as well. Although much of the 441 corridor is vacant, it's far from empty. From Davie Boulevard to Sunrise Boulevard, there are 328 businesses facing Highway 441, says Hillier.

Plus, the road is currently being widened and improved with state money, providing what Rosenbaum calls a "tremendous opportunity" for future growth. "Look at this traffic," he says, driving south on 441. It's about 3 p.m. on a recent Saturday, and the road is backed up with traffic. "None of these roads -- Sunrise, Broward Boulevard, 441 -- have ever stopped being important vehicular corridors. The problem is, people don't stop along here. Well, with the right incentives, you could start getting people to stop, and then you've gone a long way to turning this area around."

Recognizing that their eastern border may be at risk, Plantation city officials several years ago proposed the creation of a community renewal account (CRA) for its Highway 441 corridor. In a CRA the sale of bonds finances economic revitalization for a defined area, and the increase in tax revenues in the revitalized area is used to service the debt. Perhaps coincidentally, a CRA would also have had the effect of locking up future increases in the corridor's tax-generating value, thus making the corridor useless to a new city in need of tax revenue.

If Plantation serves as a convenient bogeyman for Major and company, they also have a positive example in the city of Eatonville, a small town near Orlando the very name of which resonates strongly in the black community.

In 1897, Eatonville became the first black-majority town in Florida when a group of freed slaves formed it on a small parcel of donated land. Today the town is still small -- population 2500 -- and it's still dealing with many of the problems that opponents fear await Area A should it ever incorporate.

"The major challenge for us is the fact that the cost of operating a town continues to escalate," says J. William Andrews, special assistant to the Eatonville mayor. "Police and fire services are very expensive."

Art Kennedy, a resident of Golden Heights who favors annexation by Fort Lauderdale, cites Eatonville as an example not worth following: "We don't want to end up like Eatonville." Eggelletion agrees: "I don't see any businesses running to the city of Eatonville saying let me relocate there."

It may seem somewhat strange, therefore, that Lois Howell is planning to organize bus trips to Eatonville to drum up support for incorporation. She also promises to arrange for Eatonville mayor Anthony Grant to come and stump for her cause.

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