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East St. Louis demolishing abandoned properties in ‘clean sweep’ effort

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. – East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks says her city is laying the groundwork for a comeback.

One way will be through the collaboration of organizations on both sides of the river. On Saturday, several abandoned structures in the city will be torn down.

Kids and teachers at Uni-Pres Kindercottage were celebrating as construction crews tore down a rundown vacant house across the street from their school. It’s one of 13 structures to be demolished this weekend in an effort to help clean up East St. Louis.

“It's about a clean environment, a safe environment; but more than that, it’s about restoring a sense of hope and community,” Jackson-Hicks said.

The idea of coordinating a monumental effort like this was led by Kathy Osborn, executive director of the St. Louis Regional Business Council, and James Clark of Better Family Life, who said it’s time for St. Louis and East St. Louis to share more than just a view of the Gateway Arch.

“We think we have to look at what’s going on on both sides of the river. ‘What are our common problems?’ and let’s focus on them together,” Clark said.

Saturday's goal is to clear 220 acres of land. Several area construction companies have stepped up to help, led by Holland Construction.

“We picked this site and had a great relationship with the mayor in finding out where to start,” said Bruce Holland, CEO of Holland Construction. “That derelict house next to the school just seemed like a perfect place to start.”

Mayor Jackon-Hicks said the city was working hard to restore their image and internal relationships and this helping hand they’re receiving would go a long way.

“It’s about encouraging us also as citizens to be accountable for our environment,” she said. “We have the ability to change things.”