Mayor John Dickert said he didn't know the man planning to build an 80,000 square foot factory in the city was convicted 21 years ago of shooting into an occupied church in Kenosha.
Jerry Bloom, the owner of Treasures Media, served time in prison from 1988-90 for firing a rifle into Kenosha's Friendship Baptist Church. Prosecutors at the time accused Bloom of being a "skinhead" and alleged the shooting was racially motivated. Friendship Baptist is a primarily African-American church. Twelve people were inside at the time of the shooting, but none were injured.
After talking with Bloom Friday, Dickert said he was satisfied Bloom had put the incident behind him.
"Everything I understand is he did something that was not very smart 20 years ago," Dickert said. "He's turned his life around."
Dickert made special mention of Bloom's efforts to employ inmates and ex-inmates at his company, which has grown at a remarkable pace since 2002. Bloom has turned a small Christian bookstore into one of the largest distributors of Christian books in the U.S. The Racine-based company sells books and gifts around the world through the Internet, and hopes to open 12 retail stores between Milwaukee and Chicago in the coming years.
"He (Bloom) is the epitome of everything we're trying to do," Dickert said. "... He's helping the most downtrodden in our community. Of course I'm going to support him."
But at least once group is asking why the city was caught unaware of Bloom's past. The NAACP is requesting a meeting with government officials involved with vetting developers' backgrounds.
Michael Shields, president of the local NAACP and a member of the Racine City Council, said he was concerned city officials rushed the project through the approval process. The proposed development in the Southside Industrial Park was basically approved before it ever went public, Shields said. It should have gone through the same review other developments are subject to, he said.
Bloom hopes to build his $3 million to $4 million building on the former Jacobsen-Textron site by next October. If the company stays on the site for 10 years it will receive the 5.4 acres of land for free. Normally it would cost $35,000 per acre.