I read about LaShawn Ford, Democratic nominee for state representative in the 8th District, who is suggesting a junior high and high school on the site of the abandoned Brach candy factory. My reaction was swift and simple: “I 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 ($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 taxpayers’ backs forever! So let me give my idea for the site.
As a community, Austin (and the Brach site) sits 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.
A license for a 13th casino that is still available. Why can’t the West Side get that casino and have a group of African Americans become part of the investors in it? The jobs to build any part of the new Entertainment District would put a priority on local African-American 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, Ind. 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 through the roof, a water park would bring in families. Plus with African-American 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 African-American culture. Want to experience gospel music? Our Entertainment District will offer it. Want to dance to rap music all night long? The Entertainment District will offer it. Want to visit a jazz club? The Entertainment District will offer it. Prefer to have some scotch and be laid back listening to the blues? the Entertainment District will offer it. How about some classic soul music? The Entertainment District will offer it. Like to step? The Entertainment District 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 Entertainment District, we would be about 30 minutes away from either airport. So folks flying can choose to lay over in Chicago for a few hours, 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 Entertainment District 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. The last thing anyone sitting on the fifth floor at city hall wants to see is a million angry black folks.
I have been asked to again host a conference call. So I’ll do it again this Sunday at 9 p.m. to hear your opinions on an Entertainment District. Call 605/772-3200 (this is long distance so use your cell) and enter this Access Code: 806598#. I can host up to 96 people.