Friday, July 21, 2006

Soul Street U.S.A: Miami's Black Entertainment Hub for the World

Overtown, Miami's segregated black community, was ripped apart during the 60's to build I-95 and marginalized ever since. Today it is struggling to find a place for itself in the city's building boom. Overlooked for so long, its location near the epicenter of the Performing Arts Center is making it difficult to remain poor where land prices are skyrocketing and your rental apartment is only yours until your landlord takes a developer's money and runs. County and City officials along with concerned citizens are trying to come up with ideas that will benefit everyone. Here's mine: Tap Overtown's historical roots for its place in black entertainment history and build a hotel and convention center on "Soul Street U.S.A." Maybe it could become part of the Lyric Theater site ( As envisioned, "Soul Street U.S.A" would be a permanent entertainment venue attached to a hotel and convention center. America's most famous cities responsible for giving the world the blues, jazz, R&B, and rock 'n roll would be recreated on "Soul Street U.S.A." On one side of the street, you will find the French Quarter with daily Dixieland Jazz bands marching down the street and maybe a juke joint from the Mississippi delta or a Chicago blues club. On the other side, you'll find the legendary Apollo Theater and the Savoy Ballroom from Harlem where big band music still swings. Small jazz and blues clubs and restaurants serving up some of the best soul food you can imagine will line the street and maybe even a bonafide theater or two for black plays and musicals. Top-of-the-line black recording artists, comics, actors, and dancers would perform in one or more theaters. Bronze statues of legendary black performers would line a grand stairway leading from the hotel. It would be wonderful and appropriate if it was black owned and operated with employees coming from Overtown and Liberty City. Who could afford such an undertaking? There are a lot of African-Americans who could pull this off single-handedly or as a group. The name I gave the hotel in my rendering is one guy who could probably do it without even getting Ophra involved. Maybe all they need is an economic incentive from the city and county. It's worth a try because not only would "Soul Street U.S.A" put people to work in the black community, it would become a tourist mecca attracting thousands of tourists and their dollars from around the world.

UpDate (10/25): The City of Miami on Tuesday, October 24th, announced that it will put up $30 million to fund affordable housing in conjunction with a masterplan for an "Historic Overtown Folklife Village District." Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones said Miami lacks a signature district to showcase black life and culture and that it is time to have "our own district." Part of the District includes the "Lyric Promenade" which would include a hotel. Now, if we could only get Cosby or Oprah to get behind our "Soul Street USA" concept and build the hotel...

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