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