Ever since it was announced that the South Side would be getting the Barack Obama Library, I’ve been on a tangent about what the West side should get. So when I heard that the mayor and the governor were both on the same side as to a land-based casino for Chicago, I immediately thought of my idea from years ago for a Black Entertainment District. My vision has never been small. So the idea of just a casino wouldn’t be palatable. But to wrap the idea of a casino along with a roller skating rink, indoor water park, auditorium theatre, hotel, banquet hall, movie theatre and mall would be one of the best economic engines for our side of town.
First and foremost, we would want the district to be a tourist destination. People come from all over the world currently to go to Oak Park to see the Frank Lloyd Wright properties, and they bypass Austin for a number of reasons. The primary reason they bypass us is that there really isn’t a reason to stop. I want to give them a reason. Yes we have a crime problem here in Austin. But we have an even bigger problem, which is double-digit unemployment. A huge project like the one I described would have jobs not only within the complex but ancillary opportunities as well.
Well, who likes taking their car to be serviced and having to sit around for hours with nothing to really do? What if there were a car repair shop near the new Black Entertainment District so that oil changes, tune-ups and various other work gets done while the owner visits the mall or movies?
Just this past weekend, Gospel Fest was held downtown. Yet every Sunday at a number of wonderful churches in Austin, we have genuine Gospel performances during actual church services. Why can’t our churches become tourist destinations for people to experience a real Black Church service which might even include a genuine soul food dinner prepared by the church mothers?
Every last one of us who vacations outside the United States takes in the culture of the place we visit, so why can’t the same thing happen here? Why can’t we line Mandela Road (aka Cicero Avenue) with clubs for blues, hip-hop and soul music? Why can’t we rival Beale Street in Memphis with barbeque restaurants showcasing the cooking talents of some of the best chefs in town? There is enough vacant land on or near Mandela Road for us to build a future for the generations to come.
We have a number of huge houses in Austin that are twins to the ones in Oak Park. Why can’t individual owners turn their mansions into a Bed & Breakfast facility? We have architecture to rival anything in the Chicago area but, like an uncut diamond, our brilliance won’t show through until we’re polished to perfection.
To make my idea a reality, I know the first hurdle is getting people to buy into the idea — especially our young people who were little children or hadn’t been born when we elected Mayor Harold Washington. What they need is a vision of something tangible that they can buy into. Something that can be theirs to achieve. An economic engine that allows them to proudly say, “Yes we can!” It is only when our young people buy into an idea that we can get enough unity to make it happen. It is also a way for them to see a future that doesn’t have criminal activity as part of it.
If you’re interested in beginning a conversation about my idea, email me. We may have a million-mile journey to the goal, so let’s begin by taking the first steps.