This Bad House

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Hyman tells him that he can either sign the stipulation or the board will force it upon him.

"I don't want to sign it," Meitz growls. "It doesn't matter, though, does it? The board will impose what it wants." Meitz can't resist getting in a parting shot. "And you also have someone who'll go with me now and take [Winston] out of there?"

"I don't think we're going to do that," Hyman sniffs. "We're not in that business."

"No," Meitz concludes acidly. "I didn't think you were going to do that. I didn't think so."

Northwood Street, 26 blocks north of Clematis, offers immediate visual clues that it's in the midst of gentrification. The narrow east-west avenue has been tailored for foot traffic with its wide sidewalks and paver-covered crosswalks. There is no trash in sight. Most of the one- and two-story shops have been painted in degrees of pastel. And like most nascent revitalizations, it gives way quickly to the more dilapidated neighborhoods that ring it. Those streets, occupied almost entirely by black residents, are riddled with boarded-up and burned-out homes.

Rod Tinson became the father of the Northwood Street renaissance when, two years ago, he moved his antiques and restoration business into an abandoned bottling warehouse. The interior is rustic, with exposed ceiling timbers, a look congruent with the business. "These buildings were all abandoned-looking," Tinson says while seated on an antique love seat. "The doors on this building were busted in, absolutely trashed. I thought if I could move in here and turn the neighborhood around, well, it was just obvious to me that it could be a great little antique, art, and design district."

Tinson, who is white, extols the racial mix on Northwood Street. "Many of us are good friends, and we're of different ethnic backgrounds," he says. "It's sort of a San Francisco atmosphere, and we'd like it to stay that way."

But as the character of the area began to change, so too did attitudes toward loitering, drug-dealing, and prostitution. That's when the Kwik Stop at 2401 Spruce Ave., a block north of Northwood Street, became a lightning rod earlier this year. The property was owned by Lynda Swinney and Karolyn Hornsby, two sisters who live in the St. Petersburg area. The property was leased by Allan Ati, and many in the neighborhood had complained about prostitutes and drug dealers loitering in the convenience store's parking lot. This winter, West Palm Beach police charged Ati with fencing stolen goods on three occasions, so the case was brought before the NAB. The board took jurisdiction of the property for a year and required Ati's eviction. In the meantime, however, Ati sold the business and assigned the lease to the new owner. Swinney and Hornsby, in turn, entered into an agreement to sell the property to that new business owner. Hence, Swinney and Hornsby did not commence eviction proceedings for Ati. The NAB considered the owners in violation and ordered the building boarded up for six months.

The owners hired West Palm Beach attorney Michael Morell to contest the closure. Morell argued that the NAB would have to compensate the owners for any "temporary taking," and he filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking damages. The NAB held two special meetings to deal with the issue, during which some residents requested that the store be shut down permanently. On a deeper level, the Kwik Stop touched upon the class and racial tensions that frequently flare during gentrification.

Arlene Kutera, a woman who lived close to the Kwik Stop, testified that the convenience store was needed. "If it's a convenience for the people that live in that neighborhood, why should it be shut down?" Kutera asked. "They can tell you they came by and they were solicited, but you'd better believe they don't come around that area. If they have businesses in the day, they are shut after 5 and 6 o'clock. They wouldn't be caught dead up there. It's like they're trying to say, keep the people on that side where they don't have to come over to the Northwood side. That way, we don't have to worry about those blacks entering into our Northwood community, breaking into our houses."

Tinson recalls the store as being a problem. "I used to go to the restaurant that was by it, and cars were broken into on the street," he says. "People were hailing you down as you went by for drugs and prostitution. It was trashy, very rundown."

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson