Football great’s sister says street not a tribute to him
CANTON, Ohio (AP) — The southeast street named for Pro Football Hall of Famer Alan Page has no road sign.
The road, which runs from Cherry Avenue SE to 17th Street SE, is bumpy and ends at a gate after meandering through Skyline Terrace Apartments.
Twila Page, sister of Alan Page, said she decided to advocate for improvements after her nephew made a recent visit and was dismayed at what he found. On April 8, she emailed Mayor Thomas Bernabei, stating the street and neighborhood’s condition “does not reflect the morals nor the values of one of Canton’s famed black families.”
Twila Page, who lives in Toledo, wrote the “deplorable conditions” of Alan Page Drive were in contrast to progress at the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village. She acknowledges it could take years of work to address blight and criminal activity, saying she simply seeks a commitment from the city toward improvement, without which they don’t want Alan’s name associated with the area.
“It can be done,” she wrote the mayor.
On Monday, a city crew made some repairs on the street.
A NEPHEW’S VISIT
Christopher Page, Alan Page’s nephew, said he visited his mother in Canton for Easter and wanted to show his fiancee the street with his surname.
“It was on April Fool’s Day, and the joke was on me,” he said.
Page first noticed the absence of a street sign. Then, he noticed the bumpy ride.
“It’s probably one of the worst streets I’ve driven on, and I tour all over the country doing music,” he said.
He said he did not speak on behalf of his uncle or the community, emphasizing his opinion of the street did not reflect on residents. As a visitor, though, it sent the wrong message.
“That’s a telling sign of what the government thinks of the community of that street,” he said.
ALAN PAGE’S LEGACY
In the early 1990s, Canton City Council renamed Highland Park Drive SE for the 1988 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.
Page, who grew up in southeast Canton, played defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears over 15 seasons. He pursued a legal career that began before his NFL retirement in 1981 and was the first black justice elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992. Page served until 2015, when he turned the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70.
He also founded the Page Education Foundation, which provides students of color with grants for post-secondary education in Minnesota.
A Canton councilman proposed renaming the street for Page in 1990 because the area had improved upon its reputation for “violence and drug-dealing,” according to The Canton Repository archives. Then apartment complex owners — Los Angeles-based Professional Properties — had changed the complex’s name from Highland Park to Skyline Terrace and requested the street renaming.
Page, then assistant attorney general for Minnesota, attended the street-naming ceremony and called it “as great and as big an honor as any that I’ve had.” He told the nearly 150 people gathered he hoped his name inspired others in the low-income neighborhood to achieve their dreams.
Messages left for Alan Page seeking comment for this article were not returned.
Mayor Thomas Bernabei attended the street-naming ceremony more than two decades ago as Canton’s law director, according to The Repository archives.
He responded to Twila Page’s email April 14. In his note, Bernabei stated Canton is proud to be home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and of Alan Page’s accomplishments.
“Unfortunately, the tangible benefits of the Hall do not necessarily translate into well-being for many portions of our city,” he wrote, adding that areas outside city limits often see more revenue from hotel stays and tourist activities.
Bernabei stated the conditions along Alan Page Drive are similar to those in many of the city’s older, poorer neighborhoods.
“Public safety and streets are two of the highest if not the highest responsibilities of local government to our citizens,” he wrote. “We have difficulty stretching our budget every year to provide these (and many other services.)”
Poverty, however, is the root of many “social ills” and beyond the ability of local government to solve, Bernabei stated. He told Twila Page the potholes would be filled Monday — they were — and invited her and her brother to discuss solutions that don’t involve name removal.
Both Bernabei, in his email, and Councilwoman Chris Smith, D-4, who spoke to The Repository, said Page’s concerns illustrate the need to increase city revenue. They referenced Issue 13, a May 8 ballot measure that would raise Canton’s income tax from 2 percent to 2.5 percent.
Most of the money generated by the additional 0.5 percent tax would help implement the comprehensive plan, which recommended investing in key areas and neighborhoods. Then, 20 percent would go to the general fund, 10 percent to the capital fund and 10 percent to a neighborhood development fund.
Smith, whose ward encompasses Alan Page Drive, said potholes can be found throughout the city, and the street’s condition is not intentional.
“It wasn’t no type of personal neglect or anything like that,” she said.
Neither she nor the mayor knew of the absent street sign or how long a banner featuring Alan Page has hung on a utility pole near the Cherry Avenue SE entrance.
Jimmy Arnold, president of the Texas-based Eureka Multifamily Group, which purchased Skyline Terrace about five years ago, said he was not aware of any unhappiness with the street or area. The property management company cares for the complex, which offers low-income families rent subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We’re proud that the street is named that, and it’s disappointing that someone feels otherwise,” Arnold said.
Twila Page said she wanted to bring attention to the southeast neighborhood, which has a connection to the Hall of Fame but seems disconnected from the city’s annual festivities. She visits Canton a few times a year, she said, but at no time recently has she visited the street named for her brother because of how frequently it appears in crime reports.
Records from the Canton Police Department show officers responded to Alan Page Drive 1,074 times in 2015, 453 times in 2016 and 890 times in 2017. The Repository reported in 2017 two men were shot, one fatally, in separate incidents, and a pizza delivery man was robbed at the apartment complex.
Last year was Canton’s deadliest year on record with 17 homicides. After several shootings by early summer, the city assigned four police officers to extra patrols.
Page said she hopes Canton leaders improve the quality of life for Skyline Terrace residents. She set no time frame for change, but says she knows one thing: “It can’t go on like it is, that’s for certain.”