PAHOKEE, Fla. - — Faced with financial woes and crime, the city of Pahokee is trying to rebrand itself.
City leaders admit they missed opportunities in the past and neighborhoods have been neglected, but the city is taking major steps to spur economic growth.
Inside KWAR Smoothie Shop, Brenda Hickman is fighting to overcome the stereotypes that have plagued the city of Pahokee.
“People think this is a place that’s full of crime, people are stealing and killing out here,” said Hickman, who has lived in the city for more than 20 years.
Hickman opened the doors to her new business two weeks ago to provide healthy options, and to set an example.
“Basically, change the mind of the people, and let them know that people like me, they’re able to do anything they put their heart and mind to,” she said.
Pahokee now dubs itself a city on the rise. It has a new promotional video to attract new business and eco-tourism.
“There is a fact that over 90% of Palm Beach County residents have never been to this part of Palm Beach County,” said Chandler Williamson, Pahokee’s city manager.
Pahokee is also utilizing five major grants from the state to enhance infrastructure. More than $2 million has been invested into the marina to help build a new restaurant and deck, buildings have been painted, there’s new security, and fuel tanks that were never used before are now filled, which has created a new revenue source.
“Even folks who have lived here and moved away and have come back to visit, they see a significant change in how the marina used to look,” Williamson said. “We feel that the renovations we’ve done over the last two years provide that economic engine that will push us forward in the future.”
The city’s football field has also been renovated with new turf to provide the youth with an improved surface. The city has partnered with the county to renovate the historic gymnasium, and renovations have been completed at Commissioner’s Park.
Williamson says Pahokee is trying to build a community and city of choice, and long-time residents like Hickman are paying attention.
“That is one of the reasons why I opened my business because I believe in Pahokee and I believe we can definitely change the city,” Hickman said.
Williamson said Pahokee is an opportunity zone trying to get the attention of private investors. Dilapidated buildings are also being renovated, roads are being resurfaced, and more projects and possibly new festivals are being planned to bring people to Pahokee.
“We’re here for business and here for economic development,” Williamson said.