CINCINNATI - A West End caterer says she’s being pushed out by FC Cincinnati, and some community members are saying I told you so.
Monica Williams said the soccer club is offering her $20,000, but she said that’s not enough to set up shop elsewhere. Besides, the 44-year-old West End native said she doesn’t want to leave the neighborhood she's lived in all her life.
Residents who fought FC Cincinnati’s attempt to build a new Major League Soccer stadium there think they may be seeing their worst fears realized.
But former Mayor Mark Mallory, who represented the soccer club in negotiations with residents, said he has been working with Williams “for the past five months” to “help her relocate.”
FC Cincinnati bought the 15th Street building where Williams rented space for her popular business, Just Cookin’, and is going to tear it down. To Williams, it was inexpensive - she said she only had to pay $650 a month for rent - and it was home.
Now, Williams said, she doesn't know where to go.
"My mom's West End. My dad is West End. We are West End natives," Williams said.
That’s why she chose to start her business in the West End six years ago. But she says the neighborhood is changing and she's wondering if there's still a place for her.
City Councilman Jeff Pastor, who used to live in the West End, called Just Cookin “a huge staple in the community.” Customers lined up in her store Thursday said they love her food.
“People are passionate about it,” Pastor said.
When FC Cincinnati approached the West End about building there, community members raised fears about losing homes and businesses, and Pastor said Just Cookin' was mentioned immediately.
"One of businesses that the community said 'we want to stay’ was Just Cookin' particularly,” Pastor said.
While businesses are forced to move all the time, Pastor said the neighborhood's history is what makes this significant. When Interstate 75 was built in the 1960s, it cut right through the neighborhood.
"People older than me tell the tales of how African-Americans were just displaced, homes were ransacked and communities disintegrated,” Pastor said.
And with FC Cincinnati's new stadium planned just around the corner, other residents are worried that the same will happen to them.
"One of the concerns when FC Cincinnati said they wanted to locate in the West End was gentrification. This business to some represents gentrification,” Pastor said.
In a statement, Mallory, FCC Director of Community Development, said he has met with Williams "dozens of times."
“Jeff Berding (FC Cincinnati president and general manager) and I had a fruitful, positive meeting with Ms. Williams yesterday,” Mallory’s statement said.
The statement also said the two parties had agreed to not to reveal the terms of their settlement, and that two other businesses were being displaced.
“FC Cincinnati is proud of our support and efforts for Ms. Williams and the other two property rental business tenants located in the future stadium site,“ the statement said.
Pastor said he thinks the building owner should also reach out to help Williams. WCPO contacted the owner but didn't hear back.
Pastor said Findlay Street and the Over-the-Rhine Chamber are trying to help Williams relocate to Findlay Street.
Pastor said he’s optimistic.
"For me, I'm hopeful because FC Cincinnati has met their promises. We just need the other community members to do their part," Pastor said.
Williams said she would take the $20,000 from FC Cincinnati and she's still hoping that the move will turn in her favor.
"It's my livelihood. It's my everything, you know," Williams said.