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Franklinton Group Building Toward Future with New Name

Brent Warren Brent Warren Franklinton Group Building Toward Future with New Name
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The Franklinton Development Association is now the Franklinton Urban Empowerment Lab. The name change is accompanying a rebranding, as well as some rethinking about the best way for the nonprofit organization to serve its fast-changing neighborhood.

Executive Director Jack Storey said that the plan is to add one staffer a year in order to offer a wider ranges of services. The first new hire is already working on food access issues, which he hopes will complement the housing and economic development programs that the group has been focussed on for years.

A physical move is also in the works, from the current building at 480 West Town Street – in East Franklinton – to a spot in West Franklinton that is closer to the group’s housing projects and to the majority of residents in the neighborhood. The Town Street building has been sold, as have a number of other commercial properties that the organization has controlled for years, part of a strategy designed to raise funds in anticipation of certain federal housing programs winding down and others facing an uncertain future under the Trump administration.

Columbus Underground recently sat down with Storey and Housing Director Eric Skidmore to get more details on the changes planned for the organization and to hear their thoughts on the future of the neighborhood. See below for highlights from that conversation.

On the rebranding and renaming.

Jack Storey: For 23 years, we were the Franklinton Development Association, which is not an uncommon kind of name for a community development corporation, but then our acronym was FDA, and the FDA was a CDC. So you can see where, if you’re trying to get people excited about the work that you’re doing and the people you’re doing it for, having to stop and explain that you’re not the Food and Drug Administration, and that you’re not part of the Center for Disease Control, is a challenge.

fuelSo when we looked forward when I took my post in late June, it became kind of obvious that a shift in name, and certainly adding some color and some vibrancy to the logo and the brand – and realligining it more with the community part of community development – made sense.

We are still primarily a housing organization, and I think that the FDA spoke to that well, but I don’t think that it fully encompassed the other areas that we’ve started to get into the past six years. And it certainly wasn’t going to give us room for expansion in the same way that we’re looking to do.

FUEL isn’t just a renaming and a rebranding, it’s a systematic adjustment, so that we have kind of a roadmap for capacity growth. This year we’re focusing on food access, and we brought on Ashley Hofmaster in October. So we’ll take that on as three staff members, and if we can grow that, we hope to add a fourth in 2018 and expand the focus.

On the possibility of bringing a grocery store to the neighborhood, which the West Franklinton Plan identified as top priority.

JS: Every year moving forward FUEL would like to add a new core focus, and this is a timely question, because this year’s focus for 2017 is food access and food security for the neighborhood.

Opening a market is a really simple idea that is an incredibly complex series of events, so we need to be very clear on what it is that our neighborhood needs, what it is that the neighborhood residents want, and then what we are capable of then putting together, since it’s highly unlikely that Giant Eagle is going to swing in and save the day, at this point.

It’s front of mind for our organization, and for the other organizations in the neighborhood, absolutely.

It’ll involve a lot of partners, it’ll involve the whole community. It’s already underway, a lot of people are having that conversation, a lot of people putting together plans, and, however disparate it may seem at the moment, it is coming together.

On the state of the housing market, and if private developers are starting to build single family houses in the neighborhood.

Eric Skidmore: Yeah, that started about two years ago, people started to see that there was enough interest. In some cases it was  landlords, and they were hearing from tenants that were interested in buying. And now it’s continued…it’s a handful, maybe half a dozen or so that are doing substantial rehab work. There is still the same transactions that have always taken place, with properties changing hands among landlords, but the real substantial stuff, that’s new, but it’s still at a relatively modest scale.

JS: There’s so much housing stock here…we are thrilled to see private developers coming, so long as they’re doing it with care, and it seems that the majority of them are. Some of the ones I’ve seen in recent months are incredibly well-done, and the private folks that I’ve had the chance to talk to, are keeping rents, for the most part, reasonable. Which is a huge part of what’s going on, I’m very excited.. the more folks building houses in the neighborhood the better.

On the possibilities for commercial development in the western part of the neighborhood.

JS: West Broad Street is probably one of the greatest untapped resources for commercial opportunities in the city itself. It’s phenomenal, and it’s huge…it’s a national highway. It’s got so much to offer, and the nice part about these developments in the east is that it will give credence to some of the development ideas further west.

The West Franklinton Plan is important, and has a lot of really great ideas for West Broad Street. We are working diligently to make sure that we are aligned with both the East and West Franklinton plans. And we also just have to do our own independent market research and make sure what we’re doing is driven by the residents, so we’re not just guessing at what needs to be put where. And then, finding the right partners…we can’t do everything, we’re a small team of three people. So just making sure that we’re being very cautious and thoughtful. But West Broad Street is a huge part of the reason why I took this gig.

Sullivant Avenue, on the other hand, suffers from a completely different set of issues. All of which are very real, and need to be addressed, and certainly if we can help, we’re always here for that. But we have other great social service organizations that address a lot of the other things that are happening there – from Gladden to Lower Lights Christian Center, there are a great many organizations trying to tackle that problem.

Photo by Chrissy Adams.

Jack Storey — Photo by Chrissy Adams.

On neighborhood outreach and concern from long-term residents about being priced out of the neighborhood.

JS: I think that that has to be a dialog, it’s not our place to tell them how to feel or what to expect, it’s a dialog that we have to have and we have to be better at.

It’s something that we as an organization have not excelled at, and we can certainly work harder at – we need to be talking with community members more directly and more frequently. So we’re starting to hold community meetings – we’ve only had one so far – but we’re going to be adding those to the calendar more frequently in 2017 moving forward.

On keeping the neighborhood affordable for long-term residents.

ES: Our hope is that the housing stock become safer and sanitary. Especially in terms of safety, historically we’ve had our problems, and hopefully we can be part of addressing that both directly and indirectly – in terms of the market in general – and at the same time maintain an affordable community.

We plan to do more rental housing, and that’ll be mostly single family houses, some doubles, but all affordable. We hope to maintain about the same amount of for-sale that we’ve been doing so that there are properties available for sale – and that includes rehabs and new builds, most of which are income-restricted – but moving forward, we’ll have more of a consistent focus on the rental market.

JS: There is literally no other reason for us to exist, other than for the betterment of the people that live here and that will live here, and the businesses that choose to operate here. All of our work is toward that end.

For more information, visit www.franklinton.org.

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