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The Rebirth of Weinland Park

Walker Evans Walker Evans The Rebirth of Weinland Park
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Weinland Park is a neighborhood in transition. Situated between the Ohio State University and The Short North, this largely residential area is on the cusp of a renaissance, thanks largely in part to one of the most ambitious collaborative efforts to ever be planned in Central Ohio.

The Weinland Park Collaborative (WPC) was officially launched in August of 2010 as a partnership effort to revitalize the neighborhood. The collaborative — which is made up of over 20 agencies including The Ohio State University, The City of Columbus, Campus Partners, The Columbus Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, United Way of Central Ohio and others — provides a unique opportunity to redevelop the entire area with a large-scale strategic plan and provide a way to reduce redundancy across the various groups involved.

“The WPC engages with residents and the Weinland Park Community Civic Association to learn what can best improve their neighborhood,” explains Michael Wilkos, Community Research and Grants Management Officer at The Columbus Foundation and Weinland Park resident. “The agencies and organizations coordinate and jointly support a variety of projects to leverage assets and meet needs in the areas of housing, workforce development, education, healthy living, public safety, youth engagement, and resident leadership.”

Currently, the Collaborative’s efforts focused on housing development is what is most visible to the general public. Weinland Park was originally built as a working class neighborhood for employees of the nearby machine factories such as the 3M/Auld site and the Columbus Coated Fabrics plant. When those industrial sites closed up and jobs left the neighborhood, the area began a decades-long decline that the WPC hopes to help reverse.

The Columbus Coated Fabrics site with new infrastructure construction being completed.

“Campus Partners’ work in Weinland Park began over ten years ago with the acquisition of the Broad Street Housing Section 8 portfolio,” said Erin Prosser, Director of Marketing & Community Relations at Campus Partners. “We were also able to acquire and demolish the former Columbus Coated Fabrics site and lead the environmental remediation of that site in conjunction with The City of Columbus.”

Additionally, Campus Partners played a lead planning and financial role early on in the development of the 2006 Weinland Park Neighborhood Plan (5.8MB PDF). This plan laid the groundwork that would go on to attract other investors to the neighborhood.

The site at North 4th Street and East 8th Avenue, demolished and awaiting new housing units.

“In addition to the two projects mentioned by Erin, last year we were able to acquire the apartment buildings at North 4th Street and East 8th Avenue which had been abandoned, and was a site of significant criminal activity and a source of visible blight on the neighborhood,” said Doug Aschenbach, President of Campus Partners. “Last fall we demolished the buildings and prepared the site for the construction of 10 new homes, which, in addition to 14 scattered site home renovations, are being funded through a $4 million grant of Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 funds.”

One major private investor that is leading the way on redevelopment efforts is the Wagenbrenner Development Company. Their plan for the 20-acre property that formerly housed the abandoned Columbus Coated Fabrics plant includes 400-700 units of market-rate housing.

A reconstructed Grant Avenue with new streets, sidewalks, street lights and underground utilities.

“We are one part of a larger housing-focused ‘task force’ within the WPC and serve as the developer of the housing funded through the Federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program,” explained Mark Wagenbrenner, President at Wagenbrenner Development. “Part of the reason we are so involved within the neighborhood is due to the transparency we try and maintain with residents as well as stakeholders — the more we understand the desires of the neighborhood, the better the product we will produce.”

While the Coated Fabrics site is one large and very visible component of the revitalization efforts, more significant might be the scattered redevelopment throughout the neighborhood. A multi-phase $10 million infrastructure improvement project updates a half-mile section of Grant Avenue between 5th Avenue and 11th Avenue, which has been completely reconstructed with new streets, sidewalks, street lights and underground utilities. Work has begun on the first 14 NSP-funded homes scattered throughout the neighborhood, foundations have been dug for new homes located along Grant Avenue, and Habitat for Humanity is working on 6 new homes located in the area.

Foundations have been dug for new build homes located on Grant Avenue.

“This work represents more than 28 million dollars in new investment in Weinland Park, all geared at attracting and promoting home ownership,” said Wagenbrenner. “All of the homes being constructed will be offered with deep incentives to motivate people to purchase and live in these homes. For us to make the plan work we need stakeholders in the form of home owners.”

Existing homeowners in Weinland Park are also viewed as stakeholders in the future of the neighborhood, and programs to assist in their redevelopment efforts have also been rolled out this year.

“The Columbus Foundation, JPMorgan Chase and Campus Partners have funded a Home Repair grant for existing homeowners,” said Wilkos. “This is an exterior home repair program that provides grants of up to $20,000 to income-qualified homeowners. We expect at least 30 homes to be repaired in 2011.”

Homes being renovated on North Fifth Street.

Despite the significant amount of progress being made, some Weinland Park residents wonder if the approach being taken is too much, too fast. Some residents have questioned whether or not the neighborhood is ready for a quick transition and an influx of new residents. Others worry about the possibility of quickly rising home values contributing to the gentrification of the area.

“The speed in which we have purchased the homes is result of the timing and depth of the housing crisis,” said Wagenbrenner. “A vast majority of the houses purchased were from banks who took back overleveraged, investor owned, rental properties.”

“Furthermore, almost all of the homes that we have purchased thus far have been vacant, so bringing new homeowners in would happen without any displacement,” he added. “All the property we are developing on the Columbus Coated Fabrics Site will come without any displacement, so we really have the opportunity to revitalize rather than gentrify the neighborhood.”

The majority of new homes produced in the next few years will provide housing opportunities to those earning between 30-120% Average Median Income (AMI).This means that a household of three people can earn between $18,550 and $74,160 to qualify for applying for theses types of homes.

“The goal in Weinland Park is to invest in the neighborhood in a way that results in a sustainable, healthy, mixed-income neighborhood,” said Prosser. “The housing opportunities in the neighborhood will be affordable for a variety of income levels.”

Two new builds filling in some of the “missing teeth” on vacant lots on North Fifth Street.

Currently, the poverty rate in the Weinland Park neighborhood is close to 50%, and Michael Wilkos doesn’t see that drastically changing in the short term.

“We anticipate that Weinland Park’s poverty rate will continue to exceed the City’s overall poverty rate,” he said. “We want Weinland Park to offer housing for families at all income levels, and the current strategy is to reduce the poverty rate by supporting families in poverty with programs to help them get out of poverty, and to encourage new residents at a variety of income levels to move into the neighborhood.”

All types of input from existing Weinland Park residents is being addressed by the WPC through the existing Weinland Park Community Civic Association. This group has served as both a forum for communication as well as an active participant in the collaborative itself.

“The Collaborative is committed to identifying and implementing transformational projects in the areas of public safety, workforce development and economic development, education, and health to raise the quality of life for current Weinland Park residents,” said Aschenbach.

One local organization that is leading the charge on many of those transformational issues is Godman Guild, located at 303 East 6th Avenue. Founded in 1898, Godman Guild has worked toward community enrichment and development in Columbus neighborhoods for over a century.

“For over a decade, Godman Guild has focused our efforts to strengthen the Weinland Park neighborhood in three areas: institutional change, neighborhood advocacy, and provision of direct services leading to economic self-sufficiency,” said Linda Silva, Director of Development at Godman Guild. “Our involvement in institutional change began as a partner in the development the City Sponsored Weinland Park Revitalization Plan and in the inception of the Weinland Park Civic Association (WPCA) and continues with our engagement in the Collaborative.”

The Godman Guild, located in Weinland Park.

Guild programs focus primarily upon preparing residents with skills for job placement across a variety of industries, working with teenagers on post-high school education, GED preparation, adult literacy, and a number of other focus areas.

Some might argue that an organization like Godman Guild has a limited lifespan in a neighborhood like Weinland Park that is in the process of transitioning, but Silva doesn’t see that as the case.

“Our primary objective in relationship to the transition in the Weinland Park neighborhood is not that we have or will attempt to sustain our way of offering programs and services, but that we stay open and flexible enough to be able to change as the neighborhood changes,” she explained. “We are working to redefine ourselves to that we can offer the programs, services and opportunities for everyone. Anything less would be contrary to our mission and values.”

Many of the membership organizations within the Weinland Park Collaborative point out that other community resources are already in abundance and more are taking shape in the near future.

“The Neighborhood Policing Station on East 11th Avenue was completed in 2008 and serves the Weinland Park neighborhood,” said Prosser. “Also, the Schoenbaum Center, an early childhood learning center, located at 7th Avenue and Summit Street is an investment made by The Ohio State University in 2007.”

A testament to its beneficial location, Weinland Park scores very highly at Walkscore.com due to it’s close proximity to The Ohio State University as well as northern end of The Short North Arts District. Retail, groceries, entertainment, shopping, schools and libraries can all be found within a quick 15 to 20 minute walk of the majority of this neighborhood.

“There are many examples of how the retail environment is already improving,” said Wilkos. “The new Kroger recently opened, and new local start-ups, Middle West Spirits and Brothers Drake meadery, have recently opened. Additionally, an RFP for the expansion of South Campus Gateway was recently issued that may result in a significant addition of retail space along High Street.”

One of the largest anchor projects in the Weinland Park Neighborhood Plan calls for the redevelopment of the former 3m/Auld site, located at the highly visible northeast corner of Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue. Originally planned for a partial renovation, one of the main buildings caught fire in May and was damaged beyond repair. Nevertheless, the fire isn’t stopping the momentum already in place for the area.

“Currently in the design and planning phase is the Urban Agrarian Overlay, a regional community gardening center that will most likely feature a mix of uses on one large site, potentially centered on the 3M/Auld site,” said Wagenbrenner. “We are only in the planning stages, but a lot of specifics have yet to be worked out.”

The site of the formerly abandoned 3M/Auld facility, which burned down in May and has been mostly demolished since.

Wagenbrenner also has future plans for apartments in the neighborhood, stating that they could potentially build a large 200-300 unit apartment building on a portion of the Columbus Coated Fabrics site as the area starts to see additional investors take root.

“There are many commercial properties that are underutilized and our hope is that creative users begin to make use of the warehouse buildings in the area and that we attract local retailers and sole proprietors,” said Wagenbrenner. “We would love to keep the creative, local, and alternative edge that is central to the area’s character.”

Infrastructure investment currently taking place on Grant Avenue and Sixth Street will eventually creep over to the major neighborhood thoroughfares of Summit and Fourth Streets. Chris Orban, who serves as the Traffic and Mobility Chair for the Weinland Park Civic Association said that following the completion of a new area mobility plan, it is likely that both Fourth and Summit Streets will be painted with bike lanes in 2014, though they will also remain one-way streets.

More renovation work taking place in Weinland Park.

When looking ahead, Weinland Park will be growing rapidly over the next five years, specifically in relation to an increase in appealing housing stock, neighborhood affordability, and improved desirability for urban dwelling Columbusites.

“In another three-to-five years Weinland Park will be transformed into an urban neighborhood that will be a model for urban transformation across the nation,” added Silva. “When it’s all said and done, Weinland Park will be a neighborhood of choice where people will want to live, work and raise a family.”

Members of the Collaborative encourage both current and future residents to engage with their efforts and to contribute in a variety of different ways.

“This might include those looking to move into the neighborhood, those looking to invest in properties in the area, those looking to start a business, those interested in getting involved in the planning of the urban farming center, and those that have ideas for helping and knowledge of best practices as it relates to the revitalization effort,” said Wagenbrenner. “We know for this to really work we need to find, nurture and sustain as many stakeholders as possible.”

More information can be found online at www.weinlandparkcivic.org/collaborative.php.

Multiple Weinland Park homes on Sixth Street in varying stages of redevelopment.

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