Bradley Square is on to fundraising
Governor Deval Patrick was among those who broke ground Friday for the Bradley Square affordable housing project in Oak Bluffs. Like many of the people who spoke, the governor alluded to the long and contentious permitting process for the development slated for the corner of Masonic Avenue and Dukes County Avenue.
"I just want to let you know, I'm so proud of what you've done," Gov. Patrick said. "Sometimes in the bumping up against each other, people get a little too caught up in that. But there's a reason for that, because it makes an opportunity for somebody else."
Oak Bluffs selectman Ron DiOrio, who was at times a flashpoint of criticism for a group of neighborhood residents and property owners who opposed the project, noted the overflow crowd trying to squeeze under the striped awning. "It's amazing how much support this project has," he said with a wry smile.
Plans call for two new buildings with seven affordable housing units, two "live/work" spaces suitable for artists, and commercial storefront. The old church building, the site of the Island's first African-American church, will be restored as a multi-use cultural space and new offices for the NAACP of Martha's Vineyard. Upstairs, in the former home of the Reverend Oscar E. Denniston, an additional affordable housing unit will be built.
Gov. Patrick attended the Bradley Square ceremony after holding a fundraising event at the Temahigan Avenue home of Deborah and Duane Jackson. The fundraiser, originally scheduled for 5 pm, was rescheduled to noon, so the governor could attend the wake of Senator Edward Kennedy Boston Friday evening.
The groundbreaking ceremony was part celebration, part fundraising rally, and part tent revival meeting. The event began with a soulful medley of spiritual and inspirational music from Larry Watson, a professor of music at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Mr. Watson got everyone in the enthusiastic crowd on their feet, clapping and singing along.
Richard Leonard, board chairman of the Island Housing Trust, opened the ceremony by thanking everyone involved in the project, up to and including the Oak Bluffs tree warden. The list left him out of breath. "And if I forgot anybody, thank you, too," Mr. Leonard said.
Gov. Patrick spoke next, with the crowd still buzzing about the rousing spiritual number. "Well," the governor said. "I guess we're going to have church here. And why not?"
State representative Tim Madden lauded the effort of local housing advocates. "If you don't have the tough campaign, sometimes it's not so rewarding," he said.
Charles Ogletree Jr., a professor at Harvard Law School and summer resident of Oak Bluffs, spoke about the historic significance of the Bradley Memorial Church. He noted that the presence of the state's first African-American governor, Mr. Patrick, at the groundbreaking, the nation's first African-American president, Barack Obama, vacationing on the island, and the Martha's Vineyard ties of the state's first African-American senator, Edward Brooke.
"Every one of these people stood on the shoulders of Minister Denniston," Mr. Ogletree said. "I hope every child in every school on this Island will have this as a stopping point, a place to learn about history."
Rep. Madden then joined Gov. Patrick, Mr. Ogletree, and Greg Coogan, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, in turning over a shovelful of soil, the ceremonial first step in the restoration of the church. Earlier in the day, Mr. Ogletree spoke at Deon's Restaurant on Circuit Avenue, where many in the familiar crowd of Island leaders responded with donations toward the $1.3 million left to raise for the $4.5 million development.
"It's not just symbolically lifting the soil," Mr. Ogletree said at the morning breakfast. "It's substantively changing the ground. I hope you will join not just in lifting a shovel, but in writing a check."
The Island Affordable Housing Fund, which coordinates the fund raising effort, hopes reach the $1.3 million goal in time for construction to begin next spring.
Also speaking at the afternoon groundbreaking ceremony was Alison Shaw, whose photography studio is a few doors down from the Bradley Square development. She also alluded to the sometimes vitriolic tussles with other neighborhood residents during the two-year permitting process.
"Sometimes it seems like 10 years," Ms. Shaw said. "I'm so proud and happy to welcome Bradley Square to the neighborhood. From the start, this project was so worth fighting for."
Laurie Perry Henry, president of the NAACP of Martha's Vineyard, said her organization was looking forward to a permanent home. "We've never, ever had a permanent office on this Island," Ms. Perry Henry said. "We've been working out of peoples' homes."
Ms. Perry Henry later joined others in a second ceremonial groundbreaking for the two new buildings. One of those buildings will be dedicated to Ms. Perry Henry and her late husband Manfred Henry, who served for 12 years as leader of the local NAACP chapter.
The second building will be dedicated to the late Rufus Shorter, and his wife Vera Shorter, who spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony. Ms. Shorter offered praise for Ms. Perry Henry.
"She persevered through very inclement weather," Ms. Shorter said, "through some people who were very determined not to allow this to happen."
Ending the ceremony with a brief address and a blessing was the Reverend Dean Denniston, grandson of the church founder.
"I want to thank all of the people who contributed to this project," Mr. Denniston said, "and for recognizing the life and work of my grandfather."