It was Vernell Sharp’s first time speaking at a public hearing. But she said when she read about plans to build a liquor store in the heart of the African American Heritage Corridor, she felt compelled to come down to City Hall and voice her concern.
After a few words and asking folks in the Council Chamber to pray for God to intervene, she became emotional. Then directing her outrage at the developers, her voice rising, she shouted, “How dare you! How dare You! How dare you!”
The audience applauded. Those three words basically summed up the community’s collective feelings inside the Council on Tuesday afternoon.
How dare anyone expect the Community to stand by and allow a liquor store to be built on sacred ground?
At the end of the hearing the council committee recommended denying Hatem Hassan a special use permit to allow him to move his existing liquor store at 473 Michigan Ave./118 William St. to a vacant structure at 485 Michigan Ave, while taking down the existing store to create more parking.
And in a dramatic change of heart, one of Hassan’s business partners, Emin “Eddie” Egriu, who earlier spoke in favor of the project – withdrew his support.
“After listening to all these concerned citizens, they did teach me a history lesson here today,” Egriu said. “They taught me to stay out of this…I want to withdraw my name on this application.
-Voices: Victory for the Community-
It was a victory -so far – for the community.
Speaker after speaker – from all walks of life – urged members to vote no.
Terry Alford, executive director of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission said they were absolutely against a liquor store in the corridor, which is just “steps away from our iconic corridor archway and the culture anchors.”
“The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor, an indispensable stop on the Underground Railroad, is sacred land to the African American community,” said community activist/poet & writer Ron Draffin. “We do not want a liquor store at 485 Michigan Street in the heart of our sacred land.”
Gail Wells, homeowner/activist and member of the CopperTown Block Club, delivered an impassioned plea, citing the historic significance of the Corridor and its relationship to the community. “I want you to think about the corridor as a neighborhood – it is not just a street” she urged lawmakers. “There are thousands of us and we have been here for at least 31 years – some for two and three generations and I want to know when will our voice matter? We are vibrant, we vote, we take care of our property and we do not consider him (SunRise owners) a neighbor that deserves expansion because he’s not been a good neighbor …”
Ernestine Moody, having lived in the area for 80 years, limited her brief, but insightful words to having experienced the neighborhood’s heyday. She spoke of the once vibrant community, and how today she and her neighbors often have to walk around liquor bottles.
“We would like to see that again,” she mused. “…I probably won’t be here to see it but I sure don’t want there to be a liquor store at 485 Michigan!”
Carmen Swan, representing Majority Leader Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples -Stokes, said the Assemblywoman is vehemently opposed to a liquor store in the Corridor.
”SunRise liquors wants to move to 485 Michigan? There is no way! She’s already said no way!” announced Swan.
A woman speaking in solidarity with the community said there needs to be better, more equitable development for communities of color :adding “This corridor belongs to every single person of color in this city,” yet its underdeveloped.
Activist and columnist Betty Jean Gant raised a similar issue citing $20 million of “poor people’s money” that went to developers. Said Grant, “$20 million would have gone greatly to improve the African American Heritage corridor.”
“I hope that you will take the voices of the community seriously and vote against placing a liquor store on sacred ground,” said Ms. Batchelor, co-founder of Buffalo Quarters Society.
“The African American Heritage Corridor is life – we want to pump life into the corridor.”
The liquor store she noted, would not add value.
“I hope that the community voices matter to you.”
Council President Pridgen was the first councilmember to respond to the citizens presentations and stated emphatically, that he is recommending that the special use permit be denied. A liquor store in the corridor he said, just does not fit. And, he continued, it was most certainly not a productive use of the building inside the historical corridor.
“I want to thank the people for coming out,” noted Council Member Rasheed Wyatt “A lot of what we don’t have (as a community) is because we don’t stick together. That’s what we need. When people stand with us we can get things done. And what you’ve done today needs to be applauded.”
-More To Come?-
Despite strong opposition from the community, and city lawmakers vowing not to support the project, the owner of Sunrise Liquors says he still wants to move forward .
“My client stands by the application,” said his attorney John Luhr, “and we’ll try to see it thru as best we can.”
During the hearing Modell Gault of ASCAC, who along with the rest of the speakers opposed a liquor store in the Heritage Corridor, posed an interesting question.
“What do I do as a citizen when leaders go against what the people want?” he asked.
“As a concerned citizen – when the leaders institute something that goes against the community what do we do?” -a.b.