Is Sistrunk the Next Tourism Hub?

This downtown neighborhood built by 80% minorities once thrived as an economic force in a developing county. Then eventually, bustling Main Street slowed to a halt with the slow insistent crawl due to the era of desegregation. Today, Sistrunk is the heart of the Black community in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

In this place where history speaks a story of a painful past, a tale of success is shining through, and government officials, city planners and community leaders are supporting engaging initiatives that are revitalizing the neighborhood, new street lighting and revamped sidewalks along Main Street, along with Public Art projects and local community events.

Broward County District 9 Commissioner Dale V. C. Holness (left)

Broward County District 9 Commissioner Dale V. C. Holness (left) and Derek T. Davis of Old Dillard Museum unveil the design of the Destination Sistrunk markers.

This new plan aims to bring cultural tourism to Sistrunk. In short, if tourists come to an area they will spend money, and money will allow the local enterprises to flourish.

“Cultural tourism is the new tourism,” said City Commissioner of District 9, Dale Holness, who has been involved with Destination Sistrunk since its inception.

However, bringing folks to Sistrunk isn’t always obvious in a beachside town.

Albert Tucker, Vice President – Multicultural Business Development of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), said that within the travel industry, cultural tourism has increasingly experienced the most growth. The CVB is one of the funding partners of Destination Sistrunk, and says Tucker, “With support of this initiative, we hope people can start to see the other cultural elements in our community, other than the beach.”

Albert Tucker

Albert Tucker – vice president for Multicultural Business Development with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB).

Commissioner Holness, explained that in order to attract visitors, “We have identified 11 churches in northwest Fort Lauderdale that have historical significance, for example, St. John, it’s over a 100 years old. Also Mt. Hermon, Mont Bethel…” Holness counted.

“So here is what happens,” continues Holness. “If you travel and are interested in the history of an area, you will go visit those sites,” he said. “That’s the piece that goes first. I was in Washington DC and visited where John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln. That drew me in and then I found opportunities to spend money.”

$200,000 has been raised to create plaques with QR codes to mount at the historical landmarks, a website will be made to market it to cultural visitors, and walk-able loops are being executed, among other efforts, including a Black Heritage Tour.

In a recent study by Americans for the Arts, it was stated that cultural tourists spend an average of $62 more a day than other travelers not so keen on cultural excursions. Approximately 15 to 16 million visitors come to the Greater Fort Lauderdale area annually, creating an economic impact in the billions. Roughly 15% are minority visitors. This is the opportunity that developers of Destination Sistrunk are seeking.

Destination Sistrunk is one step towards making the change.

On Saturday, Dec. 3rd, an outdoor marketplace took place at Delevoe Park in the heart of Sistrunk, with marketplaces traditionally set-up to bring together people of a community -different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, encouraging them to mingle and enjoy their surroundings, in an informal setting.

The afternoon-long event will featured spoken word, food vendors and food trucks, dance performances, fine art and contemporary mural painting, drum circles, art and history exhibitions and a Black Heritage Tour in which attendees can do by foot or trolley. The tour visited more than 60 sites, some of which are historical and key to the neighborhood.

“If you have people going into a neighborhood, they will spend money. The community needs people coming in — any community, no matter what will struggle otherwise,” said Holness. “When we build events around Sistrunk, we will draw people in.”