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Years in the making, African American Cultural District in the Bayview’s near future

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Bayview community members hope to restore and preserve the Tazuri Watu Mural at Third Street and Palou Avenue, which was recently defaced. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Momentum is building for the creation of an African American Cultural District in the Bayview.

Though it’s still in the planning phase, merchants and community stakeholders have been working to breathe new life into a neighborhood that often calls to mind poverty and crime. The designation of the Third Street Corridor as a cultural district would mirror similar districts in other neighborhoods, such as Calle 24 Latino Cultural District along the Mission’s 24th Street Corridor and the Filipino Cultural Heritage District in South of Market.

Those districts serve to protect existing culture and legacy businesses, combat displacement and help attract new businesses and patrons, among other things.

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In October, supervisors Malia Cohen and Hillary Ronen, who represent the Bayview and Mission districts, respectively, co-sponsored legislation that will codify the process in which cultural districts are created and supported by The City. The legislation is expected to move out of committee in April.

“Calle 24 is the holy grail,” said April Spears, proprietor Auntie April’s, a 12-year-old chicken and waffle restaurant at 4618 Third St. in the Bayview. Last year, Spears co-founded Merchants of Butchertown, an informal association of merchants in the area that banded together in an effort to change the narrative.

April Spears is seen outside her restaurant, Auntie April’s Chicken-n-Waffles, in the Bayview on Tuesday. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

“When it comes to talking about our community, we get a bad rep,” Spears said. “It’s that time where we are like, ‘Look, we are out here doing great things. We are creating new businesses, new relationships and we are working together.”

Details of the African American Cultural District, such as its parameters, are still unclear. The first community forum will be held on March 21 to gather input from stakeholders. The City is expected to host a meeting March 15 to update the community on the cultural district legislation and the planning process for the designation.

Cohen said designating the Bayview as a special district for black culture is not a new concept.

“This has been in discussion long before I was elected,” she said, adding that she is working with “many neighborhood groups to bring this to reality.”

The meetings are also meant to unite multiple groups vying for the designation with slightly different visions, such as whether the district should have an arts and culture focus or pay homage to African-American entrepreneurship.

Richard Washington poses for a portrait in his Bayview business, Luxurious Nail Boutique and Spa. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

“As with every community project, there is no one entity driving this,” said Tyra Fennell, executive director of the organization Imprint City, which seeks to activate underutilized industrial spaces with art projects. The group functions as the “initial administrator in organizing the meetings,” according to Fennell.

Stakeholders are in agreeance that the process should be community-driven and pay homage to the Bayview’s legacy as a predominantly African-American neighborhood.

“Once the legislation comes to fruition, the community has to drive the narrative,” said Fennel, who estimated the designation could be a multi-year process.

Some 27 businesses along Third Street are “African-American-owned businesses that are either already open and have been for many years, or are coming in,” according to Spears, who added that the corridor is also home to about 10 African-American churches.

Over the last year, five African-American business owners have set their sights on vacant storefronts on a 13-block strip between two African-American-owned legacy businesses — the 59-year-old bar Sam Jordan’s at 4004 Third St. and the Jazz Room at 5267 Third St.

This spring, Oldton Rensch and his brother will see through a business plan for a Blue Bottle-like coffee shop at 4912 Third St. that has been seven years in the making.

“You go to other districts and see that, why can’t we have it here?” Rensch said.

LaWanda Dickerson stands in front of her future fitness studio, U3Fit, on Tuesday in the Bayview. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

A liquor store-turned-coffee shop that has been vacant since 2015 at 4646 Third St. is slated to be transformed into an African-American-owned fitness studio, and an empty lot near Newhall Street and Hudson Avenue will turn into a Creole Grill also stewarded by an African-American woman.

“I want people to come to the Bayview and feel like they are in an African-American community, feel the soul, feel the vibes and eat the food,” said the grill’s proprietor, Bayview native Tiffany Walker. “I don’t think we ever had it as much as I would like to see. For me, it’s not a rebirth but a birth of something special. “

A year ago, when Bayview native Richard Washington opened up the Luxurious Nail Boutique at 4138 Third St., he said the vacant building was “four walls and a cement floor.”

“I am all for the changes,” he said. “As long as it’s positive changes, and we are included, I am fine with it.”

Part of the vision of Merchants of Butchertown is also to restore and preserve the three-decade-old Tazuri Watu mural at the corner of Third Street and Palou Avenue, which recently was defaced.

“This represents what we are trying to do h ere: preserve this legacy,” Spears said. “Some people wanted to paint over this mural, and we are not going to have it if we can help it.”

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