Last night, tipped off by Cal Skinner’s post, I went to cover a protest staged by the Coalition to Save International Plaza outside an Arlington Heights village board meeting at the Senior Center at 1801 W. Central Road.
I was surprised how many people showed up, many of them protesting on the abstract issue of eminent domain abuse, and not just because they owned a threatened business. There’s something reassuring about so many people who weren’t just in it for themselves. (Not that being in it for yourself is necessarily a bad thing.)
I was also surprised by the level of organization, including a sign-in sheet for protesters and the inevitable giant puppets (well, actually a fan-inflated balloon). The folks who stage things like the anti-globalization protests have got nothing to worry about, but this was a remarkable effort for some people trying to save something as mundane as shopping mall.
Also present was Su-Chuan Hsu, who owns International Plaza.
The protest started around 6:30 pm, and the village board met at 8 pm (preceded by a closed committee-of-the-whole meeting).
I’m a cynic when it comes to government, but when the board meeting opened with a Pledge of Allegiance led by a scout troop, I was a little impressed. Here we all were, involving the next generation in our democracy, warts and all. I think it also served as a reminder of the need to be civil.
One of the first items on the agenda was a chance for Arlington Heights residents to speak to the board. This is what brought everyone here. The first few speakers addressed issues unrelated to International Plaza. Each speaker had 3 minutes to say their piece. Amusingly, those who ran over were put on notice when the clerk held up a Stop sign.
Then it was time for three people to speak to the board about the TIF, eminent domain, and International Plaza. I don’t have notes on what they said, but I got a few pictures. Phil Walters spoke on behalf of mall owner Su-Chuan Hsu (which makes me suspect she is not a resident). Walters is also running for the board in the spring election, with property rights as one of his main issues.
Next up was Stephen Bachtell, the manager of Studio Salons, which had spent a lot of money remodeling their location and a lot of time finding customers.
Last up was Leo Plotkin, owner of Unigma Camera, who spoke about all the hard work involved in setting up his camera store.
I doubt that the board was much swayed by this opposition—if they could be swayed that easily, the TIF never would have gotten this far—but I imagine that every little bit helps. Change a few minds in the audience, make a few board members worry about their electability, and pretty soon the pressure to do the right thing starts to add up.
[Update: I am sadly lacking in the journalist’s skill for remembering and recording names, so I had incorrectly identified Phil Walters as John Philbin. This post has been corrected.]