Councilman envisions Phoenix from the ashes on E. South St.

June 11, 2010

Jones, residents working to beautify site of former Whisper's bar

WARD 5 - Sometimes, it is true that beauty can emerge from the ashes of destruction. That is certainly the hope of Ward 5 Councilman Kenneth L. Jones and some dedicated residents in the wake of a demolished neighborhood nuisance.

After seven years of complaints, protests and enduring the bedlam and violence that encroached upon the peace of East South Street residents, the menacing edifice most recently known as Whisper's night club is gone.

Now, Jones can see his way clear to beautifying the neighborhood, starting with the old Whispers site, in hopes of creating a ripple effect along East South Street.

"This would be a great place to start a rebirth on South Street," Jones said. "It's a neighborhood where people have waited for some type of project."

Whispers on East South Street was torn down in
February after many complaints and acts of violence

The bar, recently the site where a U.S. Air Force airman was shot and seriously injured while home on leave, was torn down Feb. 8, to cheers from residents who gathered to witness the event.

"The shooting of the airman really was the last straw," Jones said. "I'd like to one day show him and his family the revived area so they can see what the city has done with that space to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else."

Jones is in talks with the city Planning Department, Keep Akron Beautiful, neighborhood block clubs and a church nearby on how to make the best use of the land.

He also has begun looking into what's needed to acquire the land. Considering the liens on the property that resulted from the demolition costs, years of unpaid fines and citations, he doesn't expect he'll have much trouble taking over the land for the good of the surrounding community.

"We will have to acquire the land because it's still the owner's property," Jones said. "We would clean up the liens and offer what we think the property is worth; maybe $3,000 or $4,000 at most.

"It could take a year, but I think it's well worth it to turn that area around."

Since 2003, Ward 5 residents have barraged the city and Council representatives with complaints about the two-story building. Complaints went to the Health Department and Building Department because the former dealt with the apartments above the bar, which fell under the jurisdiction of the latter department.

Jones said the disconnect between the various city divisions is just the reason why he voted with his fellow Council members to merge all building inspection duties into the Public Service Department.

"If we would have had all of that under Public Service it would not have taken as much time as it did to get that place razed,"Jones said. "If we had one department to issue penalties and sanctions needed on that property we would have taken care of it a long time ago. This has been at least five years in the making."

Between 2003 and 2009 the city received 15 telephone and written complaints - one of which was a letter signed by 45 residents. The complaints yielded multiple citations, fines and assessments for junk vehicles, graffiti, overflowing dumpsters, high grass, exterior trash, drug dealing, prostitution and public urination - to name a few. "

The block watch club members were calling me two to three times a week," Jones said. "It was a constant headache to have to deal with that place." Jones said turning the land into park space or green space would be a fitting tribute to the airman and the long-time residents who suffered from the burdensome eyesore.

"A lot of them are from that area and they were not going to let that establishment run them out of the community," Jones said. "They knew Council and the city leaders were pursuing getting them out of there and that gave them hope."