Miguel Pilgram is a lucky man.
In his late 20s, he broke up a robbery outside a blues club and was shot. He lived. Decades later in 2010, he purchased a quick-pick Florida Lotto ticket at a Shell gas station and won the $52 million jackpot. Pilgram accepted his winnings as a $29 million lump-sum and launched his own real estate development company, The Pilgram Group, which focuses on property acquisition, renovation, and management in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Now, 48-year-old Pilgram is putting his money and energy to work to revitalize the heart of one of Fort Lauderdale’s once-thriving black neighborhoods — Sistrunk Boulevard.
Sistrunk Boulevard is named for Dr. James Sistrunk, a black doctor who, in 1938, helped create the first black hospital in Broward County. The corridor runs east to west and is divided by a set of railroad tracks. During segregation, blacks lived west of the tracks and could not be east after sundown. As such, west of the tracks was home to many black-owned businesses and community leaders. When segregation ended, the once-thriving neighborhood was lost to crime and drugs. Businesses left and buildings fell into disrepair. Instead of community pride and strength, Sistrunk Boulevard became synonymous with urban blight.
In 2012, Fort Lauderdale’s Community Redevelopment Agency invested $15 million in sidewalk, landscaping, street lighting, and roadway improvements, hoping to draw developers and businesses back to the area. However, the response was tepid at best. In the summer of 2016, an entrepreneur and developer announced they had purchased 25 properties with the intention of building a millennial hotspot, with small, affordable apartments above retail stores and restaurants. However, the project appears to be at a standstill.
That’s why Pilgram’s renewed interest is turning heads.
The Navy veteran-turned entrepreneur purchased a few buildings in the neighborhood. He intends to build a restaurant with a blues club above it on one side of the street and retail storefronts with a performing arts center above on the other. The real estate is just down the block from a new city-funded YMCA complex that’s also in the works.
“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 told the Sun Sentinel. “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.”
Though Pilgram grew up in Memphis and now lives in Coral Springs, he feels a close connection to this historic black community.
“I was raised in a similar environment,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “There is a need, and in my mind, an obligation, to invest there.”
It remains to be seen if these efforts will be the turnaround Sistrunk Boulevard needs. But this time, with Pilgram at the helm, they certainly have luck on their side.
Share image via The Pilgram Group/Facebook.