I am quite serious about a Black Entertainment District (BED) for revitalizing the West Side. Yes, it would have as its anchor the proposed casino that both Governor Rauner and Mayor Emanuel agree on. But more importantly, it would be one of the biggest investments ever made in a predominantly black community with the power and strength to have so many offshoot businesses that it could be an economic engine for decades.
My vision is a large one. But unlike those who love to do willy-nilly proposals that don’t have firm foundations upon which to sit, I like to back up my ideas with logical reasons. First, if we got the casino, we would definitely need a hotel. Now I’m not talking about some rent-for-four-hours establishment. I’m talking about a place where when West Side families have their reunions, we don’t have relatives piling up inside someone’s home when a nice hotel is available. If someone comes in via Midway Airport and leaves the next day from O’Hare, why should it just be the hotels around either airport that benefit? A hotel also needs office staff, cleaning staff, maintenance staff, cooking staff and that means jobs.
Next, I want the BED to host an indoor water park. Why should families travel to the Dells when they could come to our side of town for the same amenities? And just like at the Dells, there is a need for a hotel to spend the night. A water park needs staff to run it, too: office staff, maintenance staff and on and on.
I want to see a huge roller skating rink — a place where skating contests and fun can be had by young people who need a place to go and something positive to do, a place where young people can emphasize new skating styles and skills. A roller skating rink will need office staff, skating staff (including those who give lessons), cleaning staff, concession staff and on and on.
Movies are still the most fun to see in a theatre. A multiplex theatre with at least 12 screens needs someone to run the movies, concession stand workers, cleaning, office and maintenance workers and on and on.
I envision an auditorium so top name entertainers can come in. The package deal to see a live performance or stage play can also include a night at the hotel and tickets to the event. An auditorium needs people to run the stage, sound system, office, maintenance, concession, gift shop and on and on.
How about a banquet hall? From church anniversaries to conventions to prom dinners, we can offer the same amenities that folks travel downtown for, but without the congestion. A banquet hall needs servers, cooks, office, maintenance and on and on.
The West Side needs a shopping mall with small stores that can service the needs of the community. From shoes to clothes, jewelry, art, and home décor, we can begin a business environment that attracts money from the tourist and visitor market, which for far too long has been limited to the downtown area. How many jobs can be created and how many opportunities for business ownership can be generated?
Lastly, the casino would anchor all the rest. But just like Las Vegas has reinvented itself as a tourist attraction for families, I say we can do the same thing for the West Side. Illinois doesn’t have 24-hour casinos, of course, but the number of employees to service a casino that would rival Horseshoe in size would definitely have hundreds of workers. Then you have auxiliary workers like the office staff, cleaning staff, food staff, maintenance and on and on.
Since the city will own its own casino and parking has to be free, we have the land for it. Imagine tearing down the old incinerator site and replacing it with a huge parking garage structure while all the amenities I previously mentioned were predominantly situated on the old Brach Candy Company site (Cicero Avenue, north of Lake Street). The best part is that public transportation is already in place, the only alteration being a walkway from the Green Line directly to the complex. Adding a stop on the Metra which runs right next to it wouldn’t be that difficult.
Next week’s column will address how all this would benefit our community.