Lottery win­ner helps to trans­form Sistrunk

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By BRIT­TANY WALLMAN

FORT LAUD­ERDALE, Fla.(AP) - A child­hood in the black com­mu­nity of Mem­phis. A cruise line ca­reer that de­liv­ered him to a life in South Florida. And a lottery ticket he bought at a gas sta­tion. A win­ning lottery ticket. They are the fac­tors in Miguel Pil­gram's life that bring him now to Sistrunk Boule­vard, a cor­ri­dor the county calls the “his­tor­i­cal heart­beat of Fort Laud­erdale's old­est black com­mu­nity.”

Pil­gram, who won a $52 mil­lion jack­pot us­ing quick­pick num­bers in 2010, is in­vest­ing some of his win­nings in Sistrunk in a way not seen in years. Pil­gram said he wants to breathe new vi­brancy into the boule­vard, build­ing on its rich his­tory as a place that nur­tured civil rights lead­ers and pi­o­neers and at­tracted peo­ple to its lively nightlife and mu­sic.

“I was raised in a sim­i­lar en­vi­ron­ment,” Pil­gram said. “There is a need, and in my mind, an obli­ga­tion, to in­vest there.”

The 48-year-old Co­ral Springs res­i­dent and father of two is rolling out plans for a New York Subs and Wings restau­rant with a Mem­phis Blues club up­stairs, on one side of Sistrunk.

On the other, his com­pany, The Pil­gram Group, plans a re­tail com­plex with a bank, Jamba Juice and other shops on the ground floor. On the sec­ond floor, a per­form­ing arts cen­ter will of­fer be­low­mar­ket rates for in­struc­tors of dance, arts and mu­sic.

“Do you know how im­pact­ful that is for a child from any of these ar­eas, who is like me, to come out and see peo­ple ac­tu­ally paint­ing in the win­dow, or per­form­ing on a sax­o­phone?” Pil­gram said.

“That cre­ates a fire un­der most chil­dren. Now they say, wow, any­thing out there that's cre­ative, I can be. What­ever artist I want to be, I can be.”

Back in Mem­phis, Pil­gram said he had role mod­els who shaped him.

His father was hard-work­ing. His mother was a de­vout Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist who had him in church sev­eral days a week. When he got older, he joined the Navy. Then he em­barked on a ca­reer in the cruise line in­dus­try, climb­ing to a top po­si­tion, and learn­ing to work with large bud­gets like the one now un­der his own name.

In his world trav­els, he said he vis­ited cul­tures where peo­ple mar­veled at his “beau­ti­ful” brown skin. He said he wants chil­dren in Fort Laud­erdale's his­toric black com­mu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence that feel­ing of value as an African Amer­i­can.

But he also saw what can hap­pen when pri­vate in­vest­ment is lack­ing, he said, and gov­ern­ment comes in to re­build. In Mem­phis, he said, his grand­mother's apart­ment was razed, and the res­i­dents dis­placed. He feared it could hap­pen here, and said that's one thing that drew him to Sistrunk Boule­vard.

`IT COULD BE YOU'

Ev­ery week, Pil­gram spent $20 on lottery tick­ets. But he wasn't good about check­ing them.

Then one night he ran to the Shell gas sta­tion in North Bay Village where he bought his tick­ets. He left chicken cac­cia­tore and his girl­friend at home, and was in a hurry. He just needed a bot­tle of wine.

David, the gas sta­tion em­ployee, was in­sis­tent. Some­one had bought the win­ning Florida Lotto ticket at that gas sta­tion, he told Pil­gram, and “it could be you.”

Pil­gram got the tick­ets from his car, and one of them hit: 15-16-20-32-45-

RE­VIV­ING HIS­TORY

Sistrunk Boule­vard hasn't had a night­club with live mu­sic like Pil­gram plans in at least 25 years, City Com­mis­sioner Robert McKinzie said. Back then, the prop­erty Pil­gram bought, at the south­east cor­ner of North­west 15th Av­enue and Sistrunk, was the buzzing Night Owl lounge.

The boule­vard was once vi­brant. Now, va­cant lots and empty build­ings sit on many of the blocks. The city, a ma­jor landowner on Sistrunk, has worked for years to en­cour­age pri­vate in­vest­ment. McKinzie said the pieces are fi­nally fall­ing into place, and he's “ex­cited” about Pil­gram's role in it.

“Now that we are re­viv­ing it,” McKinzie said of Sistrunk Boule­vard, “his plan and con­cept fit right in.”

Next to Pil­gram's planned per­form­ing arts cen­ter, on the north side of Sistrunk be­tween North­west 14th Way and 14th Ter­race, the city re­cently agreed to spend $10 mil­lion build­ing a new YMCA where the old Mizell Cen­ter is. Devel­op­ment has fi­nally come to pub­lic land at Sistrunk and North­west 7th Av­enue, a gro­cery store and shop­ping plaza that took decades to come to fruition. A de­vel­oper is now propos­ing mi­crores­i­den­tial units and re­tail di­rectly across the street, McKinzie said.

Long­time mem­bers of the com­mu­nity around Sistrunk have heard for years that an eco­nomic re­vival was right around the cor­ner. Stand­ing in his cross­ing guard gear at Pil­gram's build­ing, Charles Zeigler, 67, said he be­lieves it.

“It's com­ing,” he said after Pil­gram told him his plans. “It's a process.”

The restau­rant and blues club - a ren­o­va­tion of the original 1940s build­ing - will be open in about a year, if all goes ac­cord­ing to Pil­gram's plan. He pur­chased the prop­erty in May.

His vi­sion next to the Mizell Cen­ter, where he's still work­ing to pur­chase mul­ti­ple pieces of prop­erty that span the block, could come to fruition in Spring of 2019.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF COR­PO­RATE COUN­SEL

$52M lottery win­ner plans to use chunk of for­tune to trans­form Sistrunk Boule­vard.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF YOUTUBE.COM

Sistrunk Boule­vard

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