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The reality is the city cannot afford to buy all the property it wants, so the trust is concentrating on the area where it already owns the most land. Besides building new housing, the idea is to upgrade the infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, sewers, parks) and promote local businesses, especially along 17th Avenue and nearby 54th Street. Wiley confidently predicts new construction will start as early as March. Of course, this could just be one more in a long line of meaningless predictions. "It's easy to say, 'Okay, we've got land, let's build,'" she argues patiently. "But the goal is to change the character of the area, and that requires planning. Ultimately the private sector will finish it off for us."
The private sector that Loraine Hibbert represents is barely holding on, waiting for what she calls "promises made for a fool." Herschel Haynes, president of the Hadley Park Homeowners Association in Model City, says Hibbert's cynicism is not uncommon among business owners. "It's been a struggle," he admits. "One of the things I hear all the time is there has been a distinction between the black community and the Hispanic community. People remember that when they repaired the streets in Little Havana, those businesses received assistance. They feel nothing like that is being done here in the black community."
Hibbert's family business enjoys the somewhat rare advantage of owning its building, which also houses the P&A corner convenience store one door north and Bernice's Flowers one door south. She says she applied to the city for a business grant last year but wasn't among the lucky few to receive one. She hasn't heard anything about the city's vaunted antipoverty push, such as the microloans available to businesses through ACCIN USA. "The only person I see out here trying to help the businesses is Leroy Jones," the executive director of Liberty City-based Neighbors and Neighbors Association. So Hibbert concentrates on what she does best: making meals. She serves a mean cheeseburger and fries for just $2.30. Her brother delivers orders for the lunch crowd. An old man stops in for oxtails, rice, and cornbread. A couple of girls out from school buy an order of fries. Taped to the wall next to the order window of her storefront is a long and thoughtful "Prayer for the working woman."
Divine intervention may be required. In the last year Hibbert has seen only a few new customers walk in the door, even though she distributes flyers in areas outside the neighborhood to advertise. She wishes the city would help her pay for a bigger sign and paved parking lots on vacant land near her business. Although the city did some work on the road out front, afterward the cops became more aggressive about preventing people from parking on the street. "WhyI don't know," Hibbert sighs.
Marva Wiley explains that the problem resulted from the county's decision to create two lanes of traffic going each way. "We're looking at that with the trust right now, whether we can do something to address the parking issue," she says, adding that she understands the frustration of the businesses who see government stomping on them yet again. "There are a lot of moving pieces, and part of the problem has been just to get different departments talking to each other. But to the businesses, it's all seamless. To them it's just government."