City demolishes area where drug trade flourished WIPING BLIGHTED BLOCK CLEAN

August 10, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

Attempting to remove the blight from Reservoir Hill, the city began demolishing more than two dozen vacant homes and stores along drug-plagued Whitelock Street yesterday, as local officials pledged to revitalize the area.

But even as contractors were razing an abandoned shoe store, neighborhood residents expressed concern that the troubled 900 block might be left as a vacant lot because the city does not yet have a redevelopment plan.

"The neighborhood had a plan as to what to do 10 or 15 years ago, but that's too old," said Ronald Thompson, 60, of the 2400 block of Callow Ave., who has lived in the area since 1958. "I don't know what the city will do now. I hope they put something up quickly and don't take as long to build the block up as they did to tear it down."

The 900 block of Whitelock St. -- which extends from Linden Ave. to Brookfield Ave. -- has long been one of the city's busiest drug markets. Police say there were a high number of 911 calls and arrests on the block during the past year.

Empty, gutted storefronts and boarded-up windows line the street, and old signs are the only evidence of what was once a thriving commercial district, including a record store, pharmacy, confectionary and laundromat. All that remains are a barber shop and the St. Francis Neighborhood Center on the north side of the block; both are scheduled to move to nearby locations.

The city began purchasing properties along the block three years ago, intending to redevelop the area with a mixture of stores and homes. But some owners resisted selling their property, which delayed clearing the block and allowed drug dealers to take over abandoned buildings, residents said.

The city will seek separate bids from developers for the north and south sides of the street in about two months, said Daniel P. Hensen III, the city's housing commissioner.

As residents looked on yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke removed bricks from a soon-to-be destroyed building

"This is the city's leading drug corner. . . . If we can't move the drug dealers from the corner, we will just take the corner from them," he told residents as he stood in front of a boarded up market. "This is the first step toward building something positive in Reservoir Hill."

PTC The mayor said "intensive enforcement work" by police will be required to follow up on the city's attempt to disrupt drug trafficking.

Major Leonard Hamm, commander of the Central District, said he expects many of the drug dealers to move elsewhere in the neighborhood. But he plans to work with the community to combat the "deeply ingrained generational drug usage and selling that are part of the area."

Most residents of the area appeared excited to see the demolition crews -- after more than a decade of city inaction. One woman held a sign saying, "1976-1994: It's been a long time coming. Change is gonna come."

"I am glad this is being done, but I think that any time you go along with a demolition plan, you need a plan to improve and build up," said Chartruse Robinson, president of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council and a resident of the area since 1979. "Everyone must recognize that the fight is not over.

"The drugs are going to move down the block, and we need to encourage the neighborhood to go out and do positive things to keep the drug dealers away."

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