Rodney Wallace and Eloise Stewart have seen the Eastside change over the years.
A. Philip Randolph Boulevard had businesses along the thoroughfare until the 1960s when the riots that came with the struggle for civil rights. Stewart, 62, was there. Wallace, 42, had only heard about them from his mother.
Since that time, it’s been a mostly steady decline.
On Monday, both were smiling as they stood on the empty lot at East First Street and Florida Avenue. Minutes before, Mayor Alvin Brown, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, City Council member Johnny Gaffney and other community leaders had announced a new investment in the area. Construction of affordable housing, with a preference for veterans, named in honor of the Rev. Charles B. Dailey, a local longtime civil rights leader.
The C.B. Dailey Villas will be a three-story, 24-unit project with a cost of $3.3 million, all coming from federal, state and private sources, including $200,000 from EverBank.
This development will be built and owned by Wealth Watchers Inc.
It is part of the “Renew Jax” program Brown recently announced to help distressed areas of town.
Wallace said he was somewhat surprised by announcement and groundbreaking event that took place Monday. He raised two children blocks away from the site and the investment “will give them hope that the Eastside can change.”
They’re in college now, but projects like the C.B. Dailey Villas and more could help them decide to come home when they’re done, he said.
“It’s getting better,” he said. “This is a promise. it’s heading in the right direction and sending a message.”
Stewart has owned for 10 years a shop about a block away from the site. She said when she saw the sign announcing the development, she had to stop to see it for herself.
“We just need a few things to come in and make it better,” she said of the area.
The mayor said not only was the project breaking ground on affordable housing for the area, “we’re here to break ground on history.”
Dailey, A longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Oakland, was an advocate for the community. He died 10 years ago next week and his son, Torin, has followed in his footsteps.
As Torin Dailey, his family and elected officials donned hardhats and gathered to ceremoniously shovel the first bit of dirt, Wallace and Stewart were among those who looked on.
“It makes me smile and everybody else smile,” Wallace said. “It warms your heart and we’re all behind it 100 percent … don’t give up on it.”
The villas are scheduled to be completed by August.
It’s an investment that could signal better days ahead for the neighborhood.
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