A trio of Bridgeport High School students went before the council Tuesday asking the city to consider establishing entertainment venues for teenagers.
They got a positive response.
Seniors Edward Esparza and Karen Brown and junior Sandra Cardenas shared personal stories and their reasons for the request.“Since we’ve lived here, we’ve had nothing to do,” Esparza said. “There are the two parks and the pool, but, of course, the pool is only opened during the summer and is usually full. During the winter, the park is too cold to enjoy. We have to go to Decatur; that’s the closest. But gas is expensive … ”
He also cited the risk of getting in a car accident, telling the story of his cousin who was killed on her way home to Forestburg after being out in Fort Worth.
“I don’t want that to happen to anyone else,” he said.
Esparza added that to fill the void, teenagers “end up getting in trouble.
“I know that most teenagers do drugs, drink alcohol and have sexual contact,” he said.
Cardenas talked about her cousin getting pregnant when she was 15 and how she had to work to provide for a baby instead of going out.
“We used to go to the movies; we used to go out. Now she doesn’t have time for that,” she said. ” … maybe if we had more ways to spend our time, we wouldn’t have so many in that situation.”
Brown agreed, adding that it was only a few days into her freshman year before she was invited to try smoking.
“You go to classes now, and they don’t talk about the movies they went to go see over the weekend. They don’t have places to spend time with their friends,” Brown said. “They want to be with their boyfriends and girlfriends, and they start getting involved in things they shouldn’t be involved with.
“If the City of Bridgeport did have something for the youth to leave those negative things behind, it would be very, very great and appreciated not only by the youth but the parents of young adults … I have experienced the peer pressure from students trying to get you involved in these bad things.”
“I don’t want that for little kids,” Esparza said. “I have two nephews, and I love them like they’re my kids. And I don’t want that for them … The reason I want this is so they can ignore all of that and have something else to do with their time.”
Their suggestions included a movie theater, an arcade, a small mall with shops, miniature golf or a recreation center with computers, basketball courts and ping-pong tables. Esparza said ideally he’d like to see a Main Event Entertainment go in.
“If we had more entertainment centers in Bridgeport, more teenagers could spend their time at the entertainment centers instead of making bad choices,” Esparza wrote in a letter to the council. “If we had an entertainment center, more people would start moving here, and … it could give some people jobs …”
City officials agreed.
“I don’t think we’ve sat down in the last three years and planned anything like that. Maybe that’s something we need to do,” Mayor Keith McComis said. “Whether it’s a bigger rec center, whether it’s taking the Stage down here and turning it into something since it’s not being used right now. We need to do something. I think it’s a great idea. And if we’ve got young people like this wanting to use it, I think we ought to work on it.”
City staff pointed out that there were some things suggested that couldn’t be done by the city.
“It’s business, private enterprise,” City Administrator Brandon Emmons said. “What we can do is try to promote these kinds of activities, and when we have a group of young adults that are interested, it’s easier to go out and try to sell to those private enterprises, telling them that there are customers ready to go.”
Emmons suggested looking into a partnership with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club or YMCA, where the city would provide the facility for them to establish a program.
“I think we need to fan the flame on this,” Councilman Scott Cheves said. “When I was in high school, we had what you’re talking about. We had the movie theater; we had the pool hall; we had the teen club – we had all that. I can’t remember when it just kind of went away … I think we need to take this and see what we can do with it.”
Emmons recommended forming a committee to determine a direction. Councilwoman Ilene Enochs suggested holding a workshop on a Saturday “when we’re not pressed for time” and inviting other students to provide input.
“I appreciate what you all have brought to us, too. It’s a wonderful idea,” she told the teenagers.
Mayor McComis agreed: “What a breath of fresh air to see some young adults come up here; I thank y’all for that.
Cheves added: “I really want to express – I think a lot of y’all coming up here and presenting this. Kudos to y’all. This is great.”
The teens’ efforts stemmed from a casual conversation with a teacher earlier this fall.
“During the homecoming parade, our teacher, Mrs. (Karla) Bevel asked us what we were going to do that weekend,” Esparza recalled. “We said, ‘Nothing. There’s nothing to do around here.’ And she said, ‘Why don’t you do something to change that?’ Then she told us to write a letter to the city council. From there, she made me go on and on with it.”
In the letter, Esparza wrote: “I would like to make a change in our community, which I have been living in my entire life … The teenagers of Bridgeport need your help.”
And based on the response at the meeting, it looks like the council answered that call.
“You don’t know how much it impresses me to have young people coming up here,” McComis said. “We’re going to do what we can do. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’ll start somewhere. We’ll definitely start somewhere. We may need to start with something small … and it might not suit everybody, but it’s a start.
“If we can help, we’re going to help – one way or another,” he added.
Perhaps the next step was merely an agenda item away.
After hearing the students’ presentation, the council accepted the donation of an approximate 2,730-square-foot building at 1210 12th St. from the Beneke family to the EDC.
Although the family requested it be used to promote the arts in downtown, they did not place any formal restrictions on the donation or deed restrictions on the property in order to provide the EDC with “ulimate project flexibility.” The only requirement they outlined was that the donation take place this calendar year.
The EDC will have the right to sell the property if arts-related uses are not feasible.
“Maybe it could be the new rec center,” suggested City Secretary Jesica McEachern.
The property, located near the east end of the Main Street district on the south side Halsell, has front, back and side yards which will provide some flexibility in repurposing of the site, city officials said.
It includes the structure, which was built around 1958. It was originally four apartments but has been most recently used as offices.
Most potential uses for the property will require interior and exterior improvements related to ADA, utilities and energy efficiency. But the building has recently been occupied and HVAC systems are working.
At a future council meeting, EDC Executive Director William Myers will propose specific uses and the related budget amendment and plan.