HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Big changes could be coming to North Federal Highway now that a large homeless shelter has moved out of town.
The Homeless Voice homeless shelter, just north of Johnson Street, closed its doors last Friday, giving area business owner new reason to be optimistic about the future.
"I always thought Hollywood to be the next hip place, believe it or not," said Joe Caristo, owner of Joe's Old School Pizza.
Caristo said about two weeks after he opened his hip, airy pizza place on U.S. Highway 1 last year, he realized the shelter was a block away. He said he sent over dozens of free pies to make friends with the residents, but believes the shelter's reputation in the area was keeping customers away.
"After that day it was great, but I noticed my customers were nervous," Caristo said. "The people that were coming here were all like, 'I can't wait 'till that closes. I can't wait 'till that closes."
The Homeless Voice shelter closed as part of a nearly $5 million deal with the city signed last year, in which the owner, Sean Cononie, agreed to sell the building -- and seven others he owns nearby -- and leave town.
About 100 residents loaded buses and vacated the shelter Friday.
Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober said the city has grand plans for the stretch of Federal Highway. An artist rendering shows what it could look like someday complete with mid-rise buildings, a landscaped median and bicycle lanes.
Bober believes these long standing plans could move finally move forward.
"I definitely think it's going to be a catalyst for redevelopment; it's very hard to encourage a businesses to relocate onto Federal Highway where you have this type of use. People see it as an undesirable place to be," Bober said. "And by not only knocking this down and putting something that's quality on the site, we also open the door to attract other investors and business to open up along Federal Highway."
Cononie moved his residents to central Florida, where they will live in a motel he recently purchased to provide low-income housing and the support they need to get back on their feet.
He said he will also continue to produce his monthly newspaper to bring awareness to homeless issues.
The city's plan is to demolish the building on Federal Highway and put the property up for sale.
Caristo said his pizza place is already doing well, but hopes to get a little slice of the city's success if it's able to turn its pie-in-the-sky dreams for U.S. 1 into reality.
"I think this could be the start of a total re-gentrification of the area," Caristo said. "I think it's great. I think it's only going to help the neighborhood get stronger."
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