Who's Got the Money in Miami?
In the second of our series profiling the Magic City, The Root takes a look at who's holding the purse strings in the 3-0-5.
Overtown's socioeconomic downward spin began in the 1960s, when it lost half of its more than 40,000 residents -- their property snatched and bulldozed -- for expressways that would bring mostly white suburbanites to jobs and new housing downtown. Community activists and historians, and those old enough to remember, maintain that the proposed expressway wrecked not only property but also the spirit of a community. In the 1970s, urban-renewal projects displaced another group of Overtown residents as the city sought to replace older housing with new.
But then, in the early 1980s, riots sparked by the police beating of a black motorist sealed the community's downward spiral. During the protests against police brutality and racism, hundreds of businesses that provided jobs and some remaining semblance of stability were burned to the ground. The riots caused another mass exodus of people and businesses. Overtown's current population stands at some 8,000.
Thirty years after the riots, Overtown and Liberty City, another predominantly black neighborhood just northwest of downtown, are remnants of their one-time greatness. There has been a trickle of new construction and redevelopment projects in both neighborhoods. Much of Overtown, however, located next to downtown's condo-building boom and emerging art district, remains a scar on the Miami landscape, with dilapidated housing projects and run-down neighborhood stores, to say nothing of the crime and drugs plaguing the community. The story is similar in Liberty City.
"There once were a lot more thriving businesses," recalls David Chiverton, president and chief executive officer of the Martin Luther King Economic Development Corp. in Liberty City. "But since the civil unrest, they haven't come back."
Chiverton, who has witnessed the changes in the 35 years he has lived in Liberty City, says big employers, such as Sears and J.C. Penney, have abandoned Liberty City and Overtown. He says potential investors openly worry about crime in the neighborhoods, most of which they read and hear about in media and television shows. He says the fact is, though, that crime is down.
"Liberty City has a lot to offer," Chiverton says. "There's a rich culture here, and the community is rebuilding."
His agency and others, he says, are working to turn things around. He points to a new shopping center -- Edison Marketplace in Liberty City -- that opened recently. Edison Marketplace houses a supermarket, a Family Dollar store, a Foot Locker, a Subway sandwich shop and several other businesses of national stature. And just across the street, Miami-Dade College's Entrepreneurial Education Center is teaching a new generation of young people about business and entrepreneurship.
In Overtown, there are also pockets of hope, where new businesses have emerged alongside long-established ones. And the county government has tried to do its part to bring some revitalization to Overtown, with projects such as Overtown Transit Village, a modern office building that houses county administrative offices and retail space.
"In the long run, this is going to be a good area," says Tony Bolden, whose family owns and operates Liberty Cleaners in Overtown. He recently moved from Detroit to help his family grow their dry-cleaning business. They opened a satellite dry-cleaning shop in Overtown a year ago while continuing to operate the main store in Liberty City. That store has been around for 30 years, Bolden says, adding that most of his customers are from the immediate neighborhood. The condo dwellers dare not venture across.