'Who's coming here when the place is falling down?': Residents question ESL's proposed business district

News-DemocratJune 27, 2013 

— The East St. Louis City Council voted 3-2 to establish what city leaders are calling the River's Edge Business District.

City Councilman Robert Eastern III made the motion to approve the ordinance with that name for the district. Eastern said the word change from entertainment to business "should make the citizens happy."

Councilman LaToya Greenwood and Mayor Alvin Parks also voted in favor of the measure.

Councilman Emeka Jackson-Hicks and Roy Mosley Sr. voted against the bill.

The vote came after a 100-minute public hearing in which a majority of the 35 people who spoke made it clear that they did not want an entertainment district, which is how the ordinance was worded. Some members of the audience said the simple word change made no difference.

Parks emphasized that the district would mean more jobs for residents and a reduction in crime. He said taxes and other revenue generated in the district would help to pay for more policemen, maintenance, firefighters and other services.

While Parks said he would not specifically talk about who was interested in coming to East St. Louis to do business, he assured the audience that there are people interested in the city.

"We're interested in a sense of security," Willis Jenkins said. "There is no law here. People run stop signs all of the time."

Jenkins said East St. Louis used to be an All-American city instead of being known as "East Boogie."

"We ain't gonna boogie our way out of this mess," Jenkins said.

Parks asked why East St. Louisans have to go to Chucky Cheese in Fairview Heights or to a concert at The Pageant in University City.

"The answer is because we do not have The Pageant in East St. Louis," Parks said.

Marie Franklin said the city's appearance prevents businesses from locating in East St. Louis.

"It's ridiculous. It's like some red light district places where you can go to get some off-color entertainment," Franklin said. "Who's coming here when the place is falling down. No matter where you turn, the street is falling in, there are lots of overgrown properties and houses falling down."

Franklin vowed to go door to door to get residents to vote any elected official out of office who voted for the entertainment district.

"Who are the businesses that want to come here," Franklin asked. "Why aren't they here to talk to us? What are their plans. I want something in writing, something concrete."

Lillian Parks, the mayor's mother, said: "We are our own worst enemies. When I hear there's nothing good here, I think there are plenty of good things here."

Gary Smith said: "If a rose was placed beside a bag of trash, the aromatic scent coming from the trash would out smell the loveliness of the rose." He said the trash was the crime in the city.

"We already had night clubs that stayed open until 6 a.m.," Smith said. "They brought in revenue, but we are still without police and we're laying off firemen. It didn't work. We need a plan."

Jackson-Hicks asked City Manager Deletra Hudson whether there was a comprehensive plan for the district. Hudson told her there was not.

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