MLK III applauds $2.3M investment along MLK Street

As a young girl in the 1950s and 1960s, Mashariki Jywanza remembers when the neighborhood she lived in just west of Downtown was a cultural hot spot.

It's been a long time since anyone could say that of the area lining Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street. But Wednesday, Martin Luther King III, son of the fallen civil rights leader for whom the street is named, joined city and community leaders to help unveil long-awaited improvements.

The city invested $2.3 million in the community -- including repaving the street from Fall Creek Parkway to north of 30th Street, adding decorative pedestrian walks and urban art, and improving curbs and sidewalks. A matching grant program will let businesses reinvest in their buildings.

The new work brought back old memories for Jywanza, now 61 and living on the Far Northside. Decades ago, she said, anyone visiting the area would have headed a block north of Wednesday's dedication site at West 27th and MLK streets for soul food at Vi's Black Pot. And kids would safely ride their bikes to School 41, Northwestern Park or the local Carnegie library.

Over time, though, the neighborhood slowly decayed. And like many of the former homeowners, the once-iconic restaurant, school and library are only memories.

"This is very exciting for the area," Jywanza said, "but I hope after the (dedication's) tent is gone and all of the dignitaries are gone, that resources will continue.

"It doesn't take just one event to change a neighborhood. You have to be in it for the long haul."

King echoed those remarks moments later. Showing he inherited his father's ability to draw emotion from a crowd, he lamented that too many of the nation's Martin Luther King Jr. corridors are in blighted areas and poorly maintained. He said he hopes Indianapolis continues to offer help for the neighborhood -- and other cities follow.

"This truly is the kind of tribute that Martin Luther King Junior would want to see," he said, looking out over the crowd of about 300, "one that brings people together of every ethnic persuasion."

Eventually, officials plan to repave the corridor, called Northwestern Avenue until the city renamed it in 1985, north from 21st Street. That, they say, could spark economic development.

But more to the point of reinvestment, a grant program in its early stages will let area businesses improve their properties.

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