After eight years as mayor, Alvin L. Parks, Jr. is moving out of City Hall and back into the community as a private citizen.
Monday was the last day for Parks as mayor. Mayor-elect Emeka Jackson- Hicks was to be sworn in at 6 p.m. Monday.
“It has been a tremendous honor to represent this city. I have sought to do so in a way that demonstrates respect and also commands respect,” Parks said. He said he has worked to build key relationships such as that with Western Illinois University and Ameren Illinois. He said to have success in East St. Louis, outside partnerships are essential.
Parks, 53, said he will still be a resident of the city he loves and will still do whatever he can to make it the best it can be. Recently, a BND reporter and photographer accompanied him on a ride around town to highlight some of the projects that were started or are about to start and were done under his tenure as mayor.
Parks said he expects the projects to continue after he is out of office.
Using the campaign slogan “Life More Abundant — The Turn Around,” Parks said he set out to do both and he believes he did make life more abundant for the community and the residents who live in East St. Louis, as well as to begin the turn around of the city. The city is cleaner than it has been in decades, and is much better than when he took office May 10, 2007, he said.
“I have fought to keep our city strong by not allowing outsiders to dictate the terms and conditions by which we will live and conduct business,” he said. Parks said he has engaged in working together with other governments and agencies to bring resources to the city that it deserves. Examples include bringing in $8 million in grants from the state of Illinois to support development of the Port of East St. Louis and the Goose Hill/Northeast Riverfront Industrial Park.
He said more trash, and other debris that was strewn everywhere in the city has been picked up, and more than more than 500 dilapidated structures have been torn down since 2011. Hundreds of street and sewer improvement projects were undertaken, he said.
Parks showed off the newly paved Missouri Avenue. He did not provide the project cost, but said the street improvement was part of the Streetscape of Missouri Avenue. The project included new handicapped accessible curbs that were bright red.
“It’s important that we improve the way downtown looks for current and new businesses being attracted to Illinois,” Parks said. “We’ve fixed Sixth, Seventh and Eighth streets downtown to better fortify the infrastructure and the federal courthouse and Social Security office,” he said. Other streets have been resurfaced and new street lights installed downtown. The streets in downtown East St. Louis have not been fixed since the early 1980s, Parks said.
Parks said more could have been done, and quicker, except for a lack of money.
“We didn’t have the money to do it all at once without a bond issue,” he said. Parks said the city’s resources were reduced when four of the city’s seven TIF districts were retracted. “The citizens are paying less taxes now than they have in five to seven years,” Parks said.
He walked down Collins Avenue to the Murphy Building, a historic building that is being torn down, even though some wanted to save it because it is on the National Historic Register.
“Not only is the Murphy Building an eyesore, it is a a death trap. In the back, some of the building was collapsing. Bricks were falling. As the mayor, you are responsible for the health and safety of the citizens. This building was unsafe and was a health hazard,” he said. He said $450,000 is being used to demolish the Murphy building, which is part of developing the street scape
As Parks walked, people got out of their cars, shook his hand and said thanks for his service. Some said they were going to miss him.
Parks was born and raised in East St. Louis so he was like a walking history book as he led the way to projects he is most proud of. As he drove up to the Alcoa site at 33rd and Missouri Avenue, he was beaming. Dump trucks, backhoes, side loaders and other trucks were rolling along the site, digging up the land and hauling off the debris as they prepared it for the solar panels that will soon be laid on the land. That land will be leased to Ameren UE to operate a solar farm.
“It’s $140 million of private investment coming to East St. Louis. It will result in East St. Louis receiving $250,000 annually in land leasing. But more important – is East St. Louis being able to market itself as the home of green solar electricity,” Parks said.
“As you can see, there’s a lot of activity taking place here to get things ready for the solar panels that will be placed in the ground to produce green energy for Ameren. Soon we will be able to say East St. Louis is the home of green energy,” Parks said, hoisting his thumb up. Like the Murphy Building demolition, he proudly boasted that some East St. Louis workers are employed on the job. The preparation work began in spring 2014 and is expected to be complete by spring 2016. “You’ll see solar panels in place and construction under way,” Parks said.
Another project that he is extremely proud of is the demolition of the old Christian Welfare Hospital, which was also called Gateway Community Hospital, on Martin Luther King Drive. It was extremely important to to get that old structure torn down, he said. It was an eyesore and a danger to the community, he said. Numerous citizens had complained about the vacant structure still standing many years after it had closed.
Parks credited St. Clair County with getting it torn down, but said East St. Louis helped, too. He said he is pleased that East St..Louis is starting to look like a vibrant city again. He said a new housing development is planned at the site.
He also pointed out the Save-A-Lot Plaza on Illinois 157. He called it a “beautiful place for the citizens to shop and support a locally owned business.”
Parks also is proud of the big medical event that brought a number of healthcare professionals out to 25th and State Street last year to provide tests and screenings and information about the services that Touchette Hospital has to offer. and He mentioned the Jazz at Walter Circle project that houses senior citizens on one side and a jazz ensemble market on the other side located at 15th Street and Bowman Avenue.
Parks said leaving City Hall and returning to the private sector is “bitter sweet.” But he stressed that he is not a sore loser, and wished Jackson-Hicks well. He said he took full ownership for failing to get the required number of signatures on his nominating petitions — a challenge that went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court.
“My team, and they know who they are, put out a very valiant effort for me. I will never forget and will forever appreciate the stellar effort put forth by that team,” Parks said.
Parks said a change has come and a new direction in his life, too. He is unsure about his future plans, but Parks said he has to get a job because he still has a family to take care of.
Before becoming mayor, Parks worked for Proctor and Gamble, was a School District 189 employee, sold office equipment and was an economic development employee for the state of Illinois.
He was the city manager in East St. Louis for four months. He was fired when Carl Officer took office the second time. From 1997-2001, Parks was a City Council member. He has two daughters, Annalise and Nariah Parks.
“Charlie Powell called me and wanted me to run for City Council,” he said. After learning the ropes, he decided to run for mayor, “because I felt could do the city some good.”
He said he doesn’t have to be in the position of mayor to serve the people.
“I am going to do everything I can to assist” on the riverfront development, finding a replacement for Schnucks, which closed its doors a week ago, and other projects. “East St. Louis will really be proud of what’s coming.”
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.