As I read the June 5 Austin Weekly column by Arlene Jones titled, “Why the Brach site shouldn’t become a high school,” I was stunned at her logic for choosing a warehouse over building a state-of-the-art high school campus. It was the very first time that I personally had heard any member of our community support building a warehouse on this site instead of a new high school campus.
Even Ald. Ed Smith has never really stated that putting a warehouse on this site is the best and highest use of this prime real estate. Privately and publicly, Smith continues to say that he will not back out of this deal with ML Realty because he has given his word that he will support their redevelopment project. He appears to be very committed to this, despite the fact that they are private developers from Elgin and are not residents of the 28th Ward, the people he gave his implicit word to serve on the day he was elected.
Arlene Jones claimed to be passionate about fighting anything other than a location that will generate an economic future for the Austin community. My question is, what can do any more for the economic future of Austin than a state-of-the-art high school that will provide jobs of immense diversity? There is no comparison, case closed.
The column also said that individuals and groups calling for the site to become a new high school have set their sights on the Brach site with no regard for the manufacturing future of that location and the jobs that will come out of it. The reality is ML Realty will get $10.6 million in a subsidy from the city council for this project, yet there are no safeguards in this agreement to guarantee the delivery of the 75 jobs they have promised. In fact, if ML Realty does not deliver a single job, they will be in complete compliance, and the community would have no recourse. Ald. Smith himself concedes that fact.
In the event that Smith (who actually happens to be a good man, and is usually on the right side of the issue) is enlightened and chooses to embrace the vision of a new high school campus in Austin, our community would be certain to get nearly 400 jobs, ranging from school teachers to security, engineers, custodians, counselors, culinary workers, and many others.
As more people begin to weigh in on the warehouse vs. high school campus debate, I am prayerful that Ald. Smith, being the sharp progressive politician he is, will feel compelled to honor the wishes of his constituency, and withdraw his letter of support for city TIF dollars for ML Realty.
It is imperative that this 27-acre real estate site gets the best and highest use possible. In fact, just about anything but a warehouse would be a greater community benefit. Even if you put a shopping mall over there, at least you could generate sales tax which would produce additional revenue for the city. A warehouse will not produce any sales tax at all. The $10.6 million of taxpayer money to be used as a subsidy for this private developer happens to be 25 percent of their $42 million total cost. All TIF experts acknowledge that this is exceptionally high for a “for profit” corporation. ML Realty has made it very clear that if our aldermen don’t give them this enormous multimillion-dollar subsidy, they will wiggle out of this deal.
This is the loophole that still exists that allows a ray of hope for building a new school campus on the Brach site. We are committed to lobbying Ald. Smith, appealing to him to do the right thing and take our hard-earned tax dollars out of the pockets of these wealthy developers and invest in our children’s future. Why should these rich developers have priority over the future of our children?
Austin community leaders have galvanized support and have secured investors who have agreed to purchase the Brach site and donate the land to the city for the sole use of building a state-of-the-art high school campus, the highest and best use of this land. The mayor and the 28th Ward alderman both have letters of commitment in their possession stating the above.
Ms. Jones also said in her column that those of us who are screaming the loudest for a new high school are merely concerned with creating a legacy. I personally cannot speak for any of the other advocates, but as for me, being a man of faith who knows that our time on these mundane shores is relatively short, I often think about leaving a legacy behind after I am dead and gone. At a time when Austin, the largest community in Chicago, faces the embarrassing reality of not having a high school to adequately serve its residents, there is no greater thing we can do for ourselves and our posterity than to build a quality institution of higher learning.
Catch the vision; it is not too late.
Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St John Bible Church, is chairman of the board of The Leaders Network.
Editor’s note: Arlene Jones did not endorse a warehouse on the Brach site in her June 5 column. She supported a manufacturing facility. In earlier columns, she also proposed a casino/hotel complex for the site. For more information, contact her at www.arlenejones.blogspot.com.