Seeing blight and crime in the “Beachfront” area of the city, Barbara Robinson hopes to bring life back to the community and make it safe for the young and old.
Her “revitalization initiative” includes: demolition, rebuilding, a police substation, a multicultural center and much more.
“It’s time for a change,” she said Tuesday.
A native of Fort Pierce, Reverend Robinson said she was sent to Highlands County in 1999 by “divine order” for evangelism.
The “Beachfront” area around Garrett Road has, “a lot of desolate places and rundown buildings that need to be demolished and torn down and something put back there that is going to benefit our children and our youth,” she said.
Representing the churches and the faith-based community, Robinson said she is working with the City of Avon Park in the hope of revitalizing the area.
At the March 25 Avon Park City Council meeting, Robinson spoke about the Beachfront area, which she also refers to as the “backside” of the city.
“As pastors and leaders we are concerned about that area,” she said. “What we are seeing are a lot of senseless shootings and killings that have taken place over the years. We are finding there are a lot of black-on-black killings and black-on-black shootings that have taken place.”
“Many of those places there that are known as fronts for drug activities are slowly, but surely being shut down, but a lot them are still open and we want to see them closed.”
The faith-based community would like to see a police substation or center in the south side of Avon Park to ensure visibility and safety in the community and to deter criminal activity, Robinson said.
“We are also asking the city to consider a multicultural center that would provide tours for our local schools and community highlighting some of the most famous African-Americans who have made history as well as introduce our children to some of our local historians,” she said.
Deputy Mayor Brenda Gray said she met Robinson about six months ago on another matter, but this is the first time she has heard about Robinson’s ideas for the Beachfront.
“It’s a good thing, but that is not even within the city limits yet, we are just trying to annex that in,” Gray said. “She is asking the city to do things that we are not even authorized to do at this particular time because the area doesn’t belong to us.”
Gray said Robinson should work with the people who live on the south side and work with the South Side Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).
Gray said she will contact Robinson to get more information about her proposal.
City Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland said Public Works Director Vincent Akhimie will be the city’s contact with Robinson.
Sutherland said Robinson is likely contemplating going to the Southside CRA for funding, but it has limited funds and the CRA board will not provide direct funding to non-profit groups.
Southside CRA Advisory Board Chairman Gerald Snell said there haven’t been any shootings in the Beachfront area for quite some time.
He is more concerned about the area around E. Hal McRae Boulevard and S. Delaney Avenue.
“Anybody can tell you about the things that are going on day to day in that area,” Snell said.
Robinson believes with the combined efforts of law enforcement, the school district, the city and county, businessmen and the churches, the initiatives can be funded with grants.
Also, the Lincoln Garden Cemetery (at the east end of Garrett Road), “needs some perpetual care,” Robinson said.
“We have been talking about that in the community,” she said. “It’s a shame and a disgrace for it to look the way it looks back there. The city needs to fix it up and clean it up.
“We are seeing beer bottles and drug paraphernalia thrown out there and it shouldn’t be in the cemetery.”
Gray said the Lincoln Garden Cemetery is in the city limits, but the city doesn’t own the cemetery.