One year ago residents of West Ridge were alerted to what we were assured was a situation in urgent need of community action. The old Cineplex Theater had become “an eyesore,” a “magnet” for criminal activity, including taggers and burglars, a safety hazard, and a blight on the community. The property was deteriorating, and something had to be done immediately; the community was invited to come together to make a decision about the future of the Devon-Lincoln-McCormick gateway to West Ridge.
To briefly recap, the theater’s owner, Cheder Luubavitch Hebrew Day School, had a buyer (Banner Storage Group), that had agreed to pay the school exactly what it had paid for the property some ten years earlier. The alderman, officially neutral (even first-time observers know what that means), held a couple of community meetings at which the plan was presented by school officials and David St. Pierre, Executive Director of the City’s Water Reclamation District (WRD). The WRD owned the parking lot on the property and had priced itself out of the commercial market by demanding huge fees to rent the lot, a factor in the theater’s closing. The MRD now agreed to lease the parking lot to the community for a nominal sum and to replace the lot with green space for residents if the sale to Banner was approved.
A community meeting packed with direct beneficiaries of the sale voted approval of the proposal to sell to Banner. If you weren’t paying attention, you might have thought you’d seen democracy in action.
Anyway, the school got its money, Banner got its site, the community got a garbage-strewn green space, and the alderman got a press release touting economic development as well as pictures for her weekly newsletter and year-end report. She also got a $1,000 contribution from Banner to her political fund as well as a donation of $250 from one of the school’s leaders.
Sniffing the air yet? No, it’s not your imagination.
One year later, the site is an eyesore with a front lawn. The exaggerated statements about the property’s condition, its attraction for criminals, and the need for urgent corrective action by the community were just a cover to deflect criticism about turning the site into a storage facility.
A little hysteria, a lot of hooey. The site is no better today than it was a year ago. It’s just no longer a problem.
[In December 2015, Banner received Special Warranty Deeds on both the theater site and the car wash from Cheder Luubavitch Hebrew Day School. Perhaps construction will start soon.]
Here’s what the site looks like today (photos taken Sunday, February 28, 2016).