The Hillside Plaza has seen better days. Better decades, actually.
It was built in 1958 on South Hancock Avenue, near Costilla Street and the entrance to Memorial Park and Prospect Lake.
It has been an institution in the Hillside Neighborhood.
So he convinced some of the elders in the neighborhood to back his plan. Federal grants were obtained and he raised money from neighbors, like well-respected longtime Hillside resident Fred Bland, and buy the center.
The idea was to create a small-business incubator for minority entrepreneurs who might not be able to find a reasonable commercial rent.
A liquor store, barber shop and shirt shop have been longtime tenants. But several spaces have been vacant and the plaza has been mostly run down.
The plaza and Lee’s plan for it helped Hillside earn national honors as an All American community in 1997.
But the energy of the neighborhood could not be sustained once Lee and his followers succeeded in driving out the gangs, drug dealers, prostitutes and pimps who had taken over the neighborhood in the 1970s.
And apathy gripped Hillside as everyone got comfortable again. Meanwhile, the plaza languished.
In 2005, Lee decided he wanted to take over the plaza. It disturbed him that a liquor store was the primary tenant. He didn’t think the liquor store was a healthy business for the neighborhood. So he convinced the board of the neighborhood association to turn ownership of the plaza over to him.
This enraged Bland, who saw it as a theft from the neighborhood. He mounted a battle for control of the neighborhood association and ultimately sued Lee for the plaza.
Ultimately, the lawsuit ended with the plaza being returned to the neighborhood association.
Here’s a story I wrote in 2005 about the fight for control.
Here’s a column I wrote in 2007 after the lawsuit was resolved.
Now, it is for sale. The neighborhood association’s volunteer board doesn’t have the time to serve as its landlord and says no one in the community is willing to volunteer to help.
Bland is disappointed but understands the burden of running the neighborhood and the problem of apathy.