The Southside Initiative aims to improve and unite a neglected Port Huron neighborhood

Limited options for affordable housing and a lack of a grocery store supplying residents with a nutritional food source are just a few of the reasons why many community members feel Port Huron’s South Park has been long neglected. But plans are underway to turn that around and revitalize the region with many local supporters such as community-focused nonprofit, The Southside Initiative.

What is The Southside Initiative?
The Southside Initiative, a Port Huron-based nonprofit, was created in 2021 by current President, Joe Bixler, and Eric Noetzel as an economic development alliance. Its mission is to advance social and economic opportunities in and for the south side of the City of Port Huron and was identified as a key partner in recent efforts working with the city and consulting firm to bring the South Park neighbors together.

History of South Park
Known to residents as “southside” or “south end,” South Park is the official name for the neighborhood located at the southern end of Port Huron. It extends from the north at the 24th Street Railroad Overpass at Upton street to the south ending at Ravenswood Road, and from the east at 32nd Street to the west at Military Street. The region occupies an area of approximately 2.33 miles and was once a flourishing area of the city in the early 1900s.

The property at 3550 Electric Ave. in Port Huron was formerly home to River District Market before it burned down in 2013.

The South Park area began in 1901 as a planned community with elements of a company town where the majority of the stores and housing are owned by one company that is also the primary employer of its residents. There were once black-owned businesses and other small activity centers in the area, but most no longer around including the former River District Market which was destroyed by a fire in 2013.

Today, it leaves its residents wanting more.

South Park today
With the drug epidemic of the 1980s hitting the area hard, South Park saw an increase in violent crime and criminal activity over the years. Economically this has taken a toll on the community with major businesses or other developments such as housing rarely setting up shop in South Park.  

It also has the largest concentration of the African American population in the city and is home to Industrial Park which provides automotive jobs for many of the residents in the community.

Plans for neighborhood improvement
Since its inception, The Southside Initiative has been growing and gaining influence in the community. The two main focus areas that The Southside Initiative is working to improve are the available housing and the lack of a nearby grocery store, considered a food desert by the organization’s members.

Joe Bixler, President of The Southside Initiative.

This past fall, the City of Port Huron announced that it had identified Woda Cooper Companies as the developer for the former River District Market property located at 3550 Electric Ave. Plans included an estimated $9.5 million investment into the construction of a proposed affordable housing residential complex featuring two and three-bedroom condos within a 58-unit, four-story building.

The city also retained consulting firm Double Haul Solutions which will work together with the South Park neighborhood and The South Initiative to identify their needs and opportunities for future development.

“The findings in the study point to ideas that may occur over the course of the next decade, but more importantly it identified a financial tool referred to as Neighborhood Improvement Authority,” Bixler says. “It’s a long-term plan designed to figure out what uses of the land should occur, and how we can attract new opportunities such as small businesses in the South Park community.”

Haran Stanley, Board Member of The Southside Initiative.Board Member, Haran Stanley, says another concern The Southside Initiative is actively working to address in the meantime is the lack of a grocery store in South Park.

“We are constantly having conversations centered around the availability of food and proper nutrition,” Stanley says. “Our group has been working on discussions on how we can solve that problem.”

One of the organizations they have partnered with is Seed & Soul Society, a nonprofit based out of Port Huron that has been helping to provide assistance the best they know how. One of Seed & Soul Society’s founding members, Heather Fagan, is excited about the partnership.

“It just became this organic relationship where we support them and they support us,” she says. “We have similar visions and want to see the Southside flourish and be restored to the thriving community it once was.”

Solutions to make goals a reality

It is no small task to tackle such major concerns and issues in any community, but Board Member of The Southside Initiative, Alphonso Amos, has a few ideas in mind.

Alphonso Amos, Board Member of The Southside Initiative.“The City of Port Huron owns some property, so we would like to see more partnerships with organizations such as Habitat For Humanity,” Amos says. “We would like to come up with a plan to possibly see some dollars invested in developing future housing on those properties that we may have access to.”

“With the food issues we have to look at a number of things,” he says. “We hear a lot of talk about major grocers not wanting to develop in that location due to revenue-related issues, but I think we can look into things such as a co-op grocery store, or smaller grocery store as well. We are discussing options and planning on what would be best for the residents of South Park.”
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Read more articles by Harold Powell.

Harold Powell is the Community Correspondent for The Keel and owner of Phantom Pen Media offering multimedia services to individuals and organizations across the Blue Water Area. He is a current board member for the Blue Water Area Chamber of Commerce and the most recent Chamber Choice recipient at the Eddy Awards. Harold is an avid volunteer for the YMCA of the Blue Water Area as well as Bridge Builders Counseling & Mentoring and in his spare time, enjoys spending time with his son, writing and listening to music, playing video games, and not folding laundry.