Community concerns brought a crowd of mostly young people to Monday's City Council meeting, along with a reprise of pleas for revitalization of an East Second Street neighborhood.
The governing body had alloted time to hear from The CURE Group.Leader Terry O. Muhammad said the acronym stands for "Creating Universal Righteous Establishments." Naming a long list of backers, he asked the council to help the group launch a community center that would feature everything from etiquette lessons to substance abuse counseling.
"We would like to have a bowling alley," Muhammad said, and also asked for music studios and office space.
He envisioned a center surrounded by businesses where young people could be employed and free themselves from an environment of crime and violence.
"I hope the council would hear our plea," he said. "Our children are dying today."
Rev. Paul Dean, organizer of the East Second Street Revitalization group, questioned why it was taking so long for city officials to commit $1.2 million in Urban Enterprise Zone funds to a streetscape program that was announced in 2010. The group had asked last week for a resolution to be on Monday's agenda to convey the funds, but as was explained last week, the state UEZ funds that were turned back to the city are still being reconciled.
At the end of the meeting, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp pointed out some practicalities involved in meeting the groups' desires. Muhammad had asked about having his center in the Armory, but Mapp said it did not belong to the city. The HOPES Headstart program purchased the building from the state in 2012.
Mapp said the city has two "community centers" in Emerson and Washington schools that were built with community use in mind.
On the UEZ funding, Mapp said, "We don't know how much money we have," citing "mismanagement over the years." Mapp took office on Jan. 1, but as a councilman he had asked in 2012 for an accounting of funds and projects from the previous administration. His finance director, Ron West, is still sorting it out.
Mapp said the city only owns one building in the East Second Street Neighborhood Commercial District, and it is not the former market that Dean's group wants to acquire. He said the district really needs to have an "in need of redevelopment" study that is a first step in attracting developers.
"The city is not in the business of putting up buildings," he said.
Mapp said he will ask City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh to look up any legislation related to a billboard that Dean's group wants removed.
Among other items, Mapp said in a ride around the city he noticed how dark it is, and his administration will reach out to PSE&G to determine costs for more lights. He also announced a "shadow mentoring program" in which young people will be matched with city officials to learn more about how government works. He will also have a youth "mayor for a day" each month, he said.
Having come in for some gibes from council members Monday and at other recent meetings, Mapp said, "Stop tearing me down - let's work together."