Today, the Austin Weekly News published a article from Rev. Ira Acree regarding my column and the Brach site. Hmmm, for THREE WEEKS in 2006, I wrote about the possible use for the site and heard nary a word. To see Rev. Acree column, visit this web site.
THIS WAS THE FIRST COLUMN I WROTE IN JULY 2006.
I read about LaShawn Ford, Democratic nominee for State Rep. in the 8th District idea for a junior and high school on the site of the abandoned Brach candy factory. My reaction was swift and simple. “HATED IT!” Now I believe in education. But the reality is that folks in that area need jobs. With employment, better schools will come as parents focus on their children’s education. To do it in reverse would be to force out long term residents who cannot afford to pay a tax bill for a school that just to get built would cost taxpayers over $100 million dollars (10 million to get the property, 10 million to demolish it and 80 million for a new school based on what the city spent on Little Village High School). Plus his idea would remove it from the tax rolls and put it on the taxpayer’s backs forever! So let me give my idea for the site.
As a community, Austin and the Brach site sit halfway between O’Hare and Midway Airports. There is a train track behind the Brach site that can be used to connect it to a track that can reach both airports. The site is also next to the CTA green line, a few blocks south is the Eisenhower Expressway and Cicero Avenue has traffic 24 hours a day. So why can’t we have a Planned Black Entertainment District on that old site?
The Entertainment District would be comprised of a land-based casino, a hotel, an auditorium and an indoor water park, movie theatres, nightclubs, roller skating rink, bowling alley and a 24 hour mall along with a multi-story parking garage. Now let me validate each item that I have suggested.
There is a license for a 13th casino that is still available. Why can’t the Westside get that casino and have a group of African American (AA) become part of the investors in it? The jobs to build any part of the new ED would put a priority on local AA participation. No one wants to see folks just gamble, so we can include a first-class hotel with an auditorium offering musical acts and plays? How many of us have gone all the way to Merrillville IN for a concert or play?
Indoor water parks are one of the hottest places for families to go. With access to water from Lake Michigan, and gasoline prices going straight thru the roof, a water park would bring in families. Plus with AA family reunions being a huge market, a first class hotel would fit the bill.
Who doesn’t love a good movie? A 12 screen multiplex theatre would add an additional entertainment option for families and friends. Since access to and from the site is easily controllable, we can establish nightclubs for both old and young. The site also offers the opportunity to have a secure location for folks to go out and enjoy themselves.
We have not had a huge single location to celebrate AA culture. Want to experience gospel music? Our ED will offer it. Want to dance to rap music all night long? The ED will offer it. Want to visit a jazz club? The ED will offer it. Prefer to have some scotch and be laid back listening to the Blues, the ED will offer it. How about some classic soul music? The ED will offer it. Like to step? The ED will offer it.
For young and old alike, we can offer a roller skating rink and bowling alley. Top it all off with a 24 hour mall and there will be so much to do and see that people will come. We can make a visit to our side of town more popular than a trip to Chinatown, Greektown or that bean at Millennium Park. Our restaurants can offer choices ranging from soul food, catfish, BBQ to Creole.
I mentioned those train tracks that can connect Midway and O’Hare. If the only stop between those two airports was our ED, we would be about 10 minutes away from either airport. So folks flying can choose to lay over in Chicago for a few hours to arranging their flights to spend an extra day in Chicago to visit, shop, gamble, enjoy and then continue on their merry way.
The best part is the number of jobs that each piece of the ED would generate. We could make our own economic engine that can fuel our side of town for the next 100 years. But let me make one thing clear. Right now that site is zoned as manufacturing. And the owners have to pay taxes on it. So even if it sits vacant for 50 years, they will pay taxes. And we MUST NOT ALLOW that site to get rezoned unless we as a community benefit, because the last thing anyone sitting on the 5th floor at city hall wants to see is a million angry black folks.
THIS WAS THE SECOND COLUMN
I wrote an article a few weeks back where I suggested that the site of the old Brach’s candy factory be turned into a planned Black Entertainment District. That Entertainment District would consist of a casino, hotel, watermark, music clubs for every music form black folks have invented, restaurants, bowling alley, roller skating rink, auditorium and 24 hour shopping mall just to name a few.
Due to an editing problem, my response to LaShawn Ford, Democratic nominee for state representative in the 8th District idea for a junior high and high school on the site should have read “hated it!” The idea of taking a property off the tax rolls and placing it on the backs of taxpayers is not good economic sense. And if you’ve read my columns over the past couple of years, I am big on “common sense” and have no time for “nonsense”.
When I first came up with the idea of an Entertainment District, some people who I bounced the idea off of were very nervous about a casino component. But let me make something clear. A planned Black Entertainment District would be a tourist attraction first and foremost. The mayor has been dropping hints about Chicago being able to get a land-based casino. So when you look on a map and see how our side of town sits smack dab in the middle between Midway and O’Hare airports, it is time for us to demand our turn at economic opportunity. And contrary to an editing decision made, the Brach site is less than 15 minutes away from either airport if an express train was used as the mode of transportation. Many of us who have ridden the el know how fast those trains can move when they become express.
Many people have never heard of the Mid-City Transitway (do a google search online and you will be amazed at what comes up). Basically it is a reincarnation of the old Crosstown Expressway idea, except it would use rail lines. It would link up the Blue Line to the Orange line and allow traffic between the two airports without having to go downtown. So if that Transitway is put into motion, then our side of town will see a constant stream of folks passing thru here. Therefore as a community, our goal has to be how do we make money off them? Can we make ourselves a tourist attraction? Why can’t we reap the economic rewards of our culture the same way others reap economic rewards off of theirs?
How can the House of Blues have a gospel brunch every Sunday that charges $38.00 a person and then imports Black Choirs to sing there? Why can’t we have a site to do the same thing and reap that $38.00 price tag to benefit ourselves? How can McDonald’s restaurant trademark our nickname for it “Mickey D’s” and then threaten to sue if you use it? How can the Hi-5 and “give me 5” hand slaps become such a staple part of America and yet I can remember when sportscasters didn’t know why the black basketball players would hit each other’s hand?
If we cannot get a large manufacturing company to relocate to the Brach site, then it is time we stand up for what we want that will benefit us! Why can’t our side of town become a tourist attraction? We have some of the best planned parks in the entire city within a stone’s throw of the Brach site (Garfield, Columbus, Austin Townhall, Humboldt and Lafollette). We have access to the green line and major streets. The Metra also zooms right past the Brach site.
A large amount of our housing stock is part of the original bungalow belt. We can attract students of architecture and folks who just like looking at it. The entire world has enjoyed black culture thru music, food, dance and slang. Do I have any proof that folks would come to our side of town? You know I do! Years ago I was on the community council for the Garfield Park Conservatory. At that time, they would barely get 100 people a week to go there. Then they held the Chihuly exhibit of glass and got 20,000 in one week! So I refuse to listen to anyone who wants to say that our side of town cannot attract people. Hell, we attract those folks looking for drugs on a daily basis. .
One of the men who called on the conference call wanted to know about the zoning. Well zoning is a simple matter of the city council changing it from what it is now to what it needs to be. The recent illegal immigrant march proves that politicians are scared of numbers of people who organize and march for what they want. Plus, we can already vote and the elections are coming up. So we must act and act fast.
AND THE LAST COLUMN
I have been writing the past few weeks about our demanding that the old Brach Candy site become a Black Entertainment District. My idea was in response to 8th State Representative Elect LaShawn Ford’s idea to make it into a school. I have been encourage to stay on this topic because I have spoken with so many others in the community that has this same vision.
As we look at who will get employed at a school and who can get employed at a Black Entertainment Complex, I’ll let you make up your own mind. I learned a long time ago that Westsiders are smart folks. So I don’t underestimate you all.
If the Brach site were to become a school, how many of you have a degree in education? How many janitors will the school board hire, security and school personnel? Does the Board of Education even hire those types of positions anymore or do they privatize them out so that non-city residents (or illegal aliens) can get those jobs? What kind of employment can our young people get at the school? And when I asked one of the wealthiest businessmen in Austin what kind of business he would open up next to a school, he said a “candy store”. What else I asked as I said it would be both a junior and senior high school? “Bigger Candy Store” he replied and laughed.
Now let’s look at the Black Entertainment District idea. Let’s say we get the casino, hotel with auditorium, banquet facility, water park, roller skating rink, bowling alley, music clubs and shopping mall. How many of you can become dealers, cashiers, pit bosses, security, janitorial help, food service, office personnel, maids, desk clerks, life guards, bartenders, sound people, musicians, recreational leaders, valet parkers, store owners, club owners, restaurant owners and so on? In my estimation, with all the components in place and it functioning 24 hours a day, we would be looking at over 3,000 permanent full time jobs! Not many degrees needed to do that kind of work!
And with that many employees, a day care center on the site could offer affordable childcare to both the workers and community. Trust me; the first group of folks to not want us to have such a facility would be The Brickyard, North Riverside Plaza and Ford City.
Now, let’s look at our community and the type of people we need to get employed. Somehow I don’t think we have a lot of unemployed teachers sitting around in Austin who need a job. But I bet we have a lot of unemployed folks with high school diplomas and GEDs that need employment and can do some of the jobs listed. I am sure we have some ex-offenders who could fill some positions based on what their crime was. I know we have teenagers who need to work. The jobs that a Black Entertainment District would offer are the kind where you get “on the job training”. So folks will learn a skill and make money. What better win-win situation is there?
Let’s also look at who would come to our banquet hall and auditorium? We have tons of churches that have anniversary dinners and they go to the banquet halls in the south and western suburbs. How many schools would have their proms and luncheons at a hotel in the area? Why even Rainbow PUSH had to go to a hotel in Rosemont for their convention because as Black people we don’t have the facilities to host such a function!
At what point do we look at each other and say “enough is enough”? When do we stand up and demand the same economic engines that changed the south loop from an abandoned factory and warehouse filled wasteland into one of the hottest areas in the city get offered to our side of town? In a city founded by a black man, Jean Baptist Point DuSable who established the first business here in the city by having a trading post on the edge of the Chicago river, we as a community must look like fools to have so little going for us ever since! And when a politician stand up and can only talk of economic development that comes on the back of your being taxed to pay for it and you won’t reap any economic benefit from it, then you had better take a stand and let them know when it’s a bad idea and when it’s a great idea.
You also have to let those “loud-mouth-opinioned-columnist” (me) know when I am right or as loony as can be and the men in the white coats should be coming for me. We as a community must look at the opportunities we are making available to our young people when they return from college and what we are making available to those who don’t go. We must decide what is right for this community that will help keep us as an economically viable community and what is not in our best interest.
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