They call their dream Echo East, and a team of developers hope that it could be the spark that finally ignites the fire of improvements for the east side.
On Saturday morning, team members laid out their plans for the ambitious project, which they hope to build just one short block from the AT&T Center. They said it could transform the area at long last and fulfill a promise that neighborhood residents have been hearing since the sports arena was finished in 2002.
Speaking to a couple of dozen interested neighbors, Terry Bailey of Foremost Development said that nothing has happened because the time has not been right.
"The timing is now though. This is going to uplift the neighborhood and make it a better place to live,” Bailey said.
Everybody in the room has heard this pitch before. But this time, the developers said that they have the wherewithal to make it happen.
“I want to see people in this community be able to participate in the dollars,” Barbara Gervin Hawkins told the crowd.
Hawkins said that she dreamed up this idea back in 2000 and has been working to make the dream a reality for years.
Echo East is a proposal that could eventually bring 500 apartments, a boutique hotel, and 28,000 square feet of retail space to a beleaguered corner at Commerce and Spriggsdale.
“The George Gervin Youth Center, that I was CEO of for 25 years, has always been engaged in District 2. And one of the things that we were aware of is the people's cry to see true, solid development on the east side and this will do that,” Hawkins said. "There's no office space for professionals in this area and we have a lot of need for drop-in stores and services. And this facility will make that happen. We're real excited about it."
“This is a mixed use apartment (and) retail complex that will basically be the cornerstone for the east side development in this area,” said Bailey, who added that the project will be developed in phases, with the first being the creation of 250 to 300 apartments.
Bailey also said that at least 10 percent of those apartments will be affordable and the rest will be rented for market rates.
The first phase also includes two large parking garages that will accommodate expansion for all three phases of the development.
The people who will have this development in their back yards listened carefully to the proposal and expressed a number of concerns.
"My concern is the crime," said Coliseum Oaks neighborhood president Bertha Sevilla.
Sevilla says that it's hard to focus on progress when she hears gunfire several times a week. The recent drive by shooting attack that killed a 4-year-old child is just a few hundred yards away from the proposed development.
“When you hear [gun shots], you tell your children, 'get on the floor,'” Sevilla said.
The young mother also said that she has concerns about gentrification. She said that she has many neighbors who are far too young to take advantage of tax freezes that benefit senior citizens.
“We have a lot of young people that are very concerned about the tax increases. They did not know about this project and some just heard about it yesterday. Some residents say, ‘I might not be able to afford my home,’” Sevilla described.
Sevilla said that she did not buy her home with the intention of selling and moving on. She said that she wants to be able to stay without the fear of being taxed out of the area.
Gaynell Hayes lives on the street adjacent to the project. She does have a senior exemption, so she said that her main concern is attracting the right sort of tenants to the apartments.
“We'll be sharing the same fence, so as long as it's not low-income where we would have riff-raff, we don't want that. Upscale is okay, very much so,” Hayes said.
Charles Williams exhorted the crowd to get involved. The owner of several small east side businesses said that rather than fight change, residents should work together, pool their resources, and build businesses that will take advantage of all the new opportunities.
“We need to be a part of the transformation!” Williams exclaimed.
Hawkins said that, with proper management, economic growth and new jobs will take away the sting of gentrification.
“Gentrification is going to happen. The key is to get in front of it so it doesn't hurt the people. We have to manage it,” Hawkins said.
Bailey says that change has to start somewhere.
“We are going to be one of the first ones out of the chute, so to speak. But someone has to take that step,” Bailey said.
The next step in the process is a vote by City Council on August 31st, approving the sale of one final piece of land that would create a 20-acre parcel for the project.
The developers say that they have the votes and the project will go forward.