I wrote an article a few weeks back where I suggested 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, waterpark, music clubs for every music form black folks have invented, restaurants, bowling alley, roller skating rink, auditorium and 24-hour shopping mall just for starters.
My response to Democratic nominee for state representative in the 8th District LaShawn Ford’s idea for a junior high and high school on the site is “hated it!” The idea of taking a property off the tax rolls and placing it on the backs of taxpayers makes no 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, I bounced the idea off some people who 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. The Brach site would be less than 15 minutes away from either airport if an express train were 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 through here.
Therefore, our goal as a community 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 theirs?
How can the House of Blues have a gospel brunch every Sunday that charges $38 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 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 of American life, 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 percentage 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 through 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 glass exhibit and got 20,000 in one week! So I refuse to listen to anyone who wants to say 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 my recent 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.
So let’s talk about it. Every Sunday at 9 p.m., I host a conference call for people who read this column to have their say. 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.