By William Hladky, BrowardBulldog.org
To honor Dr. James F. “Doc” Sistrunk’s legacy, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission may have to defy Flagler Village Civic Association opposition to extend the boulevard named for the black physician.
The proposal is to extend the name Sistrunk Boulevard east of Andrews Avenue through the Flagler Village neighborhood to Federal Highway.
Sistrunk Boulevard currently runs west from Andrews Avenue through City Commission District Three. The road, however, is named NE 6 Street east of Andrews Avenue, which is part of City Commission District Two.
Sistrunk Boulevard is four lanes wide until it meets Andrews Avenue, where the road narrows to two lanes as it continues east.
Economics and politics are the reasons given for opposing the Sistrunk Boulevard extension. Race is an unstated tension.
The Sistrunk district, just west of Flagler Village, is the largely black, historically segregated area of the city. Flagler Village is gentrifying into a predominantly white residential neighborhood.
Asked if racial bias is driving opposition to the Sistrunk Boulevard extension, City Commissioner Dean Trantalis – who represents Flagler Village – said, “I don’t know what prejudices are in the hearts of people.”
The Northwest Progresso-Flagler Heights Community Redevelopment Advisory Board has voted twice – in 2009 and 2012 – to rename that part of NE 6 Street as Sistrunk Boulevard to encourage economic traffic into the Sistrunk neighborhood.
TO HONOR A BLACK PIONEER
Commissioner Bobby B. DuBose, who represents the predominately African-American District three, said in an interview that many of his constituents want Sistrunk Boulevard extended to honor the black pioneer’s memory.
Dr. Sistrunk, a historical hero to the black community, moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1922. In 1938, when hospitals were racially segregated, he helped established the city’s first medical facility for blacks, Provident Hospital. He died in 1966.
During a July 2 City Commission conference meeting, Mayor John “Jack” Seiler and three of the four commissioners indicated support for a compromise. They suggested using both names along its six-block stretch through Flagler Village. Street signs would read Sistrunk Boulevard underneath NE 6 Street.
Trantalis rejects that idea.
“The big problem that people have is not that they don’t like Dr. Sistrunk and the heritage he brings to the community,” Trantalis told the commission. “(The name Sistrunk Boulevard is associated) with urban decay and crime…The people who live in Flagler Village don’t want that association to be passed into Flagler Village.”
But just a few blocks west of Flagler Village, Sistrunk Boulevard has undergone a recent and dramatic transformation aimed at stimulating private investment in the area. The city, along with its local community redevelopment agency, spent $15 million on the installation of new decorative tile, wider sidewalks, streetlights, landscaping, bus shelters, on-street parking and lane reductions.
DuBose sees the area differently from Trantalis. “We have two different perceptions,” he told the commission. “I (do not) want to belabor this for another year…This is important to the city…At this point I’m ready to move…just vote on it.”
Mayor Seiler lamented that Sistrunk Boulevard retains a negative connotation to some. He called Dr. Sistrunk “a legendary individual who delivered 6,000 (babies) and had a huge impact on…those who did not have access to health care.”
Dr. Sistrunk’s legendary status has not swayed Charlie King, a local activist who is thinking about running against Seiler in the next mayoral race.
“The name Sistrunk Boulevard makes people immediately start thinking of crime, drugs and prostitution,” King said in an interview.
PREJUDICE NOT THE ISSUE?
King is a realtor who owns two townhomes in Flagler Village, and lives further east in Fort Lauderdale’s more upscale Victoria Park neighborhood. He said prejudice is not the issue.
“It is economics,” he said, adding that renaming NE 6 Street would slow down the gentrification of Flagler Village. “The mayor is overstepping his bounds by forcing people to change the (street) name against their will.”
Trantalis, who attended the last Flagler Village Civic Association meeting, said opposition to renaming the street is widespread. “Nobody in the room supported the renaming,” he said.
Matthew Pici, president of the Flagler Village Civic Association, said in an interview that his association complained to city hall in 2012 when new street signs were erected renaming NE 6 Street as Sistrunk Boulevard. The new signs subsequently were removed.
City spokesman Chaz Adams said a contractor prematurely installed the Sistrunk Boulevard signs in Flagler Village. Once discovered, the contractor removed them. The city commission had not approved the name change, Adams added.
The Flagler Village Civic Association passed a motion in 2012 requesting that any proposal to change street names in its neighborhood be submitted to the association for a vote before city approval.
The association may vote on the co-naming proposal at its Sept. 18 meeting. Commissioners DuBose and Trantalis both are expected to attend the meeting to be held at 6:30 pm at 408 NE 6 St.
“Commissioner DuBose may very well make his case (at the next Flagler Village Civic Association meeting),” Trantalis said in an interview. “I don’t want to predetermine the outcome of the meeting.”
Trantalis said the co-naming of the street in Flagler Village is not a “foregone conclusion,” even though the rest of the commission appears to support it. But if the commission votes to do it without Flagler Village support, it would set “a very bad precedent.”
To Dubose, the renaming proposal is a citywide issue. “We’re not taking, we’re adding, in co-naming, in co-branding,” he said.