The Austin Community Education Network is continuing its fight to have a high school erected at the old Brach’s Candy factory site. ACEN, a division of the Westside Health Authority, will travel to City Hall on Friday, June 6 and are urging Chicago residents to join them.
Despite thousands of letters, petitions and phone calls, the community’s efforts are being ignored and TIF ($10.6 million) money is being designated for construction of a warehouse that community leaders oppose. RL Realty Partners of Itasca is proposing the warehouse the project, estimated to generate 75 jobs, which may or may not include Austin residents.
A meeting was held Monday, June 2, at Trinity Baptist Church, 1210 N. Waller, to discuss the agenda that would be addressed during the City Hall finance meeting scheduled for Friday.
Virgil Crawford, community organizer at Westside Health Authority, began the meeting by noting the presence of many young people.
“The purpose of the meeting tonight,” he said, “is to look back at what has transpired over the last couple of weeks. We have put a lot of effort and a lot of energy into mobilizing this community and to elevating this vision, making people aware of what the issue is and creating an opportunity for people to become a part of this movement. Your efforts have taken us to United Fellowship Baptist Church, two weeks ago, where we had a packed house turnout. That led us to City Hall on May 14, where your voices were heard. The purpose of going down to City Hall on the 14th was to prevent this resolution or this proposal from being introduced into the city council.
“Even though that proposal was introduced by Alderman Ed Smith, we knew there is more work to do. We had a successful Press Conference last Thursday, so we’ve been able to keep this issue in the forefront of people’s mind in the media, and I think we have been doing a good job. We still have a lot of work to do because the fight is not over.”
President/CEO Jacqueline Reed said, “It doesn’t seem like we have any politicians whatsoever on our side. I’m on the mayor’s 21st Century Commission. I went to the meeting last week and started hammering in that [Renaissance 2010] isn’t working. I don’t care how they look at the numbers. They have a lot of numbers to try to fool the people.”
Reed said she had talked with Mike Kelly, CEO of Park National Bank who is working with Reed and others. Kelly’s bank has offered to buy back the site from RL Realty, but the effort thus far has not been successful. Reed said Kelly “wants to testify at the city council meeting and he also hired an architect for us who can draw out our vision.
The lawyer for Park National is the one working with the architect, so we will have something to take to the Department of Planning and say, “This is a bigger vision than a warehouse. Mike also said he had been reassured by Ed Burke, head of the Finance Committee that they would have a public hearing.
So we do have some support in terms of our organizing. I have not met any parent or any person on the street who did not say this is the right thing for us to do. And if anyone doesn’t think it’s the right thing to do, I don’t mind having a discussion with anybody to listen to what their arguments are. But we’re going to fight to the end. We are “freedom riders headed to city hall.”
Young people will be distributing formletters in the community soliciting residents’ support. According to the developer’s contract, the development of this warehouse is projected to generate at least 75 permanent jobs. However, this does not mean hiring would necessarily come from the Austin community. Another issue, organizers say, is that the Austin community does not need any more warehouses. Warehouses currently in the community, it is alleged by organizers, are not benefiting the community or residents. Organizers say that with education, the high crime problems will start to be addressed, turning children from guns to education.
A report back to the community on the city hall meeting is schedule for next Thursday, June 12, at 4800 W. Chicago Ave.