Friday, June 27, 2008

Why not a high school next to police headquarters?

Several years ago, a young man I know made his first trip home after a semester away as a freshman at a historically black college. As we spoke about his college campus life, he told of dealing with gang-bangers, drug dealers, crime and more. All the while he was trying to pursue his college education.

When I inquired as to why he had to deal with those issues while away at school, he reminded me that historically black colleges are located in historically black neighborhoods. The social ills of those neighborhoods are imposed on the college campus life of the students.

How to deal with the safety of children as they make their way to and from school has always been at the forefront of some people's agenda. Take the case of DeLaSalle High School on the South Side. It is the alma mater of Mayor Daley and for years the white children from Bridgeport would cross State Street and make their way to a school located in a predominantly black neighborhood.

So when the time came to build a new police department headquarters, wasn't it a coincidence that the new station was built at 35th and Michigan, directly across the street from DeLaSalle High School? For now through perpetuity, the children attending DeLaSalle will be safe because their school is patrolled by default by all those police officers who come and go to the police headquarters across the street.

Those children at DeLaSalle will never know what it is like to have to wait for the police to show up. As they travel to and from school, one of their concerns won't be having to deal with any of the social ills of the neighborhood being imposed on their high school campus. Those children will never have to deal with gangs of young men with golf clubs milling around waiting to start another fight over some insane reason.

Ever since I wrote about not supporting the idea of a high school on the site of the former Brach Candy factory, I have been hearing from those who do support the idea. One of the most unusual things I heard during our discourse on the idea was the notion that putting a new school on that site would revitalize the community and help to do away with drug dealing, gang-banging and all the other bad behaviors that go on in that neighborhood.

After reading that suggestion, I was taken aback. What kind of people would argue that children who are already burdened with the "growing pains" of just trying to grow up in this world should also have to bear the burden of being the ones on the front line in the battle against the social ills of a neighborhood?

If we as a community are truly concerned about wanting a state-of-the-art high school in Austin and want it to be a safe environment, then we need to take a page from the Mayor's handbook and put the school in a location where our children can feel just as safe as those who attend his alma mater. So I want to be the first to put forth my suggestion for an alternative site.

On Madison Street at Menard Street sits the brand new 15th District police station. It also has sitting across the street, 3 blocks of prime business land that was used to put in several parking lots for it. My suggestion is, rather than place a brand new school in a neighborhood that is still struggling socially, put the new high school for Austin on the land currently used as parking lots for the 15th District. With a school directly across from the police department, our children, like those at DeLaSalle, can concentrate on their education without the worry of having to deal with gang-bangers and drug dealers.

Now I am being facetious to a certain degree about putting the school on the parking lots. But what I am not kidding about is the notion that our children cannot be the social and moral scapegoats at the forefront of any neighborhood battles whenever a new school is built. What they need most is to have a secure environment in which to learn.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Slippery Slope of Eminent Domain

The Brach site is privately owned. If the owners don't want to sell it, then the city could institue a procedure called eminent domain. The problem with Eminent Domain is that the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Kelo vs. New London Ct that it is OK for the goverment to take land which isn't generating lots of taxes and give it to entities that will generate more taxes.

Those with no vision seem oblivious to the fact that eminent domain case be used to take our houses to give to someone who will generate more tax dollars. Tear down those frame houses and put up condos that will generate twice the taxes and who the residents don't need to constantly call the city for service.

Here's a link to a story on that case.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


The issue of the future of the Brach site at Cicero Avenue and Lake Street is one that everyone in the Austin community should take a stand on. And the decision has to be: economic future vs. new high school.

Now I have made it clear for the past couple of years that I don't support the idea of a school on that site as the first agenda for it. Why? Because all you have to do is drive around Austin on any weekday and see the huge number of unemployed men sitting on stoops, hanging out on corners, or just being out and about, to know that our priorities should be about economics first.

Our city right now is in the process of making big plans. Move the Children's Museum from Navy Pier to Grant Park. Tear up Washington Park and the surrounding community for a possible site for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Bring a land-based casino to Chicago. In every instance, the city is willing to spend money to make money. Only in our community is the most vocal leadership one which advocates spending money without offering plans for generating revenue. They see us taxpayers as an endless wallet they can tap-economics be damned.

Two years ago, I wrote a series of articles in response to then-candidate LaShawn Ford's comment that the site should be a school. But rather than just rail against the idea, I put another one on the table that I will again revisit: The Brach site should become a Black Entertainment District (BED).

My contention then and now is that if Chicago is to have a land-based casino, why not the Brach site as a location for it?

But not just a casino. My vision is an entire entertainment district comprised of a casino, a 10-story hotel, a 24-hour mall, water park, movie theater, bowling ally, skating rink and music venues that encompass the entire black experience from jazz to blues, gospel to hip hop. Add in several restaurants serving soul food, Creole food and barbeque, along with a state-of-the-art banquet hall and theater stage, and we will have an economic engine that would drive our economy for the next 100 years. Don't forget that Senator Obama winning the presidency will bring a lot of interest in the black community to Chicago.

With gasoline now over $4 a gallon and the Brach site accessible by CTA (bus and el stops), Metra train, and the Eisenhower Expressway just a few blocks south, it is the perfect location for such a complex. Plus many people aren't aware that the city has considered the possibility of linking Midway and O'Hare airports by using an abandoned railroad line that runs directly behind the Brach site for a high speed train line.

A BED would be the perfect spot for us as a community to get our share of tourist dollars. People who have flights into Chicago connecting to another flight and have hours to burn could spend their money in our community (one of the major reasons people were advocating a casino in Rosemont). Tourists downtown could visit our BED as one of their destination stops before heading to the airports. Why should the Loop be the only location to get tourist/convention dollars?

What type of economics could a BED bring to our community? Well to begin with, if it encompassed all the ideas I mentioned, we would be looking at over 3,000 jobs. We would be looking at the kind of jobs that the average person in Austin can qualify to get. We would be looking at local ownership of the businesses in the 24-hour mall. We would be doing the same for the restaurants and other businesses. The casino-hotel can be black-owned (like the Majestic Star in Indiana).

If you live in Austin, where does your church hold its banquets? I bet they don't do it in Austin or even in the black community. When your family has a reunion, at what hotel can your family members stay? If you need a job, where can you go in your own community to get a job? When our young adults age 18-29 are looking for something to do and someplace to go, what is available to them? They are the most forgotten and largest unemployed group in our community.

I invite everyone in Austin to take a tour of the site-not from the Cicero Avenue side, but from the back on the Kilbourn side. Notice the rail tracks at ground level. Notice the truck depots. If you can't visit it in person and are computer savvy, use Google Maps to see pictures of the site.

Then ask yourself which vision for the land would best suit our community-one where we make money or the other where we pay money?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

R. Kelly's "NOT GUILTY" verdict

R. Kelly has been found “not guilty” by a jury of his peers. The legal system can never find a person innocent. What is does do is say that the prosecutors didn’t present a case that would make a finding of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” decision the one that the jurors could have honestly and fairly made.

In the justice system where Lady Justice is blindfolded to represent the fairness of it all, R. Kelly was given a fair trial. His ‘not guilty’ verdict was handed down not only on Friday the thirteenth, but just before Father’s Day. I’ll let you make up your own mind as to what that means.

Now I didn’t attend R. Kelly’s trial. But from the accounts I read and heard in the news, the tape that R. Kelly was on trial for is one of many. When one witness for the prosecution testified that the same day she first met R. Kelly she also had sex with him and she was only 17 at the time, then the man truly has a problem.

But the bigger problem is with the black community. We seem to be in some sort of trance when we can justify a grown man not only having sex with a child but recording it as well. It also says a lot about all those who went out of their way to buy a copy of the tape or scoured the internet to see it there.

The same witness Lisa Van Allen also mentioned that R. Kelly had an entire bag of homemade sex tapes that he carried around with him. I wonder how long before another one of them shows up and will involve another child?

Thursday, June 12, 2008


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.



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.


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.


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.

Friday, June 06, 2008

If Mayor Daley can Urge the Children's Museum to be Built In Grant Park.....

Then why don't the activists who are currently trying to get the Brach site to become a school not try to get the new High School for Austin built in Columbus Park??? I mean it is a huge under used park and by building a high school in that location we wouldn't have to spend any money to purchase the land, demolish the building, etc. Any thoughts on that idea?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Why the Brach site shouldn't become a high school

You can't manufacture land. That is a given fact whenever a community has to deal with the reality of what to do with the limited amount of land it has. Over the past 30 years, I have watched while the manufacturing corridors in Chicago have been allowed to go from manufacturing to commercial and even to residential.

That is one of the reasons I am so passionate about fighting against any effort to turn the old Brach Candy site into anything other than a location that will generate an economic future for the Austin community.

I know there are individuals and groups who are calling for that site to become a new high school. They seem oblivious to the Metra train tracks running at ground level directly behind the property. They are also blind to the City of Chicago's garbage processing facility which sits kitty corner to the back of the property as well. And they are ignoring the other manufacturing businesses located directly behind the Brach site.

Those individuals who are now screaming the loudest were invisible when others were fighting to try and save Austin High School or when Michelle Clark was turned from a middle school into a high school. Nor do they even mention the brand new North Grand High School on the 1700 block of North Kostner. Their agenda is their agenda, and it has less to do with what is best for this community (some of them don't even live in Chicago) and more to do with creating their legacy.

They have set their sights on the Brach Candy site with no regards for the manufacturing future of that location and the jobs that can come with it.

Manufacturing is dead in the USA, you say? Well let me tell you about a small town-Danville, Va. Once home to the huge Dan River textile mills, the 15,000 jobs that were there, left. As the town struggled with economic challenges, the elected officials didn't give up. Instead, they took advantage of the same economic forces that caused many of those businesses to leave. Currently, our weakened U.S. dollar makes manufacturing in many European countries too expensive. That, along with the current rise in the cost of fuels, has many foreign companies looking to establish manufacturing sites in the U.S.

Now admittedly, the jobs that have come back to Danville are not equal to the number that left. But the jobs that came back are paying well and giving hard-working Americans a chance to earn a living. One of Danville's biggest coups was to snare an Ikea. Not the store, mind you, but a plant that would manufacture two of Ikea's top-selling products-the Expedit bookshelves and Lack coffee tables. Other manufacturing companies have invested in Danville as well. They were soon followed by large retail big box stores like Home Depot, Sam's Club, Petsmart and Target.

The Brach site has the ability to be an anchor for our community. We need visionary leadership regarding that site and not reactionary decisions. We need leadership that understands, in tough economic times, that you do not put additional expenses on the back of taxpayers without first producing a revenue stream.

We need jobs for Austin and since we cannot manufacture land, we do not need to give up manufacturing land for a school, especially in light of the fact that less than two blocks away on Cicero, there are several acres of land that have been sitting vacant for decades.