Project aims to set example for Warren

WARREN – A multi-block area of the Historic Perkins Homestead Neighborhood is being developed as a pilot program to show that neighborhoods around the city can be revitalized and attract new residents.

Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, Trumbull 100, and the city are working to revitalize the neighborhood near the city’s downtown area and on the edge of its garden district.

TNP Director Matt Martin identified about 20 abandoned houses in the area.

“About half of the houses will need to be demolished,” Martin said.

The remaining houses may be saved and rehabilitated through a combination of hard work, non-traditional financing, strict enforcement of housing codes, and the city making sure it improve sidewalks and the street lights work properly.

“It is a small project that can be done in a short period of time,” Martin said. “It can be a model of success that can show what can be done in other areas.”

The area is bordered on the south by High Street; on the north by Atlantic and Summit; on the east by Park Avenue; and on the west by the Mahoning River.

This pilot program was announced as part of an overall strategy to revitalized the central city area, which stretches from the Mahoning River east to Elm Road, and runs between Atlantic Street on the north and High Street on the south. Within this area, there are approximately 100 empty and abandoned homes. Nearly half will need to be demolished.

“Demolition is part of our plan,” Martin said. “Salvaging properties that can be rehabilitated also is part of our efforts.”

Martin described a decline in the number of people in the garden district, but emphasized there is a significant number already living in the neighborhood who are taking care of their properties.

Dennis Blank, a spokesman with the gregg’s garden project, described the all-volunteer group’s efforts to plant wildflowers on vacant lots. Its ultimate goal is to change the image of the near downtown area to point where people – especially young people – will want to buy properties and live in the area, he said.

“If people can see other investing in the area, they may consider buying and rehabilitating houses to live in,” Blank said. “Gregg’s garden is not about planting wildflower gardens. We want to make areas green, meaning improving the lots.”

Blank emphasized that the neighborhood has been called Area 51 by some because of the blight that can be seen as people drive through it.

However, those who have walked through it and have talked to residents know that there is a strong cadre of homeowners that are maintaining their properties, he said.

“What can make it attractive to others is marketing its the low cost of entry, a do-it-yourself marketing zone in which others will help getting things done, its walkability to churches, entertainment and parks.”

While open to anyone moving into the area, Blank said the group will focus its efforts in convincing young people to consider the area.

“Young people are more likely to see the value of the properties,” he said.

Diane Sauer, president of Trumbull 100, said a revitalization effort can succeed. She described how a formerly blighted and unkept area just south of The Ohio State University in Columbus has been turned into a thriving highly desirable neighborhood in the city called Victorian Village.

“Granted, we are not Columbus, but we do have the assets in hand to make this project viable,” Sauer said. “Beautiful old homes and architecture, trees, walkability – it’s all there.”

Sauer said the time is now to do this kind of work because of the oil and shale gas boom

“While no one knows exactly how much we will benefit in terms of population increase, we do feel that now is the time to start the process,” she said. “We know that Niles has already said they will work to attract those moving into the area.”

Mayor Doug Franklin said the city has been providing support to the effort to get rid of the worst homes by supplying the matching funds for the Moving Ohio Forward grant that will allow for the demolition of about 125 homes before the end of the year. The city also working to make residents physically safer by increasing law enforcement efforts.

Developer Steve Coon is expected to rehabilitate the former Packard Apartments next year, upgrading what has been an eyesore just north of the downtown area and providing upscale housing for people looking to move into the area.

“We will use all of our resources to make it an easy project,” Franklin said.

Several developers will be in the city looking at possible projects on Porter Street.

Sen. Rob Portman will be in the city touring the garden district, Franklin said.

“We will be pushing him to find out how much of the (federal) Hardest Hit Funds will be provided to the city and how we may be able to use them,” he said.