Warren neighbors replace blight with basketball court, garden

WARREN – Neighbors on Monday celebrated the construction of a community basketball court where once stood two abandoned houses in the Garden District on the corner of Belmont Street and Mercer Avenue in Warren.

“(It was) a dump,” resident Vickie Osterico said. “It really put the neighborhood to shame. Tearing these houses down has been amazing.”

The basketball court is joined by a new community green space and garden, all funded by the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership as part of their Lots to Love initiative, which has revitalized 15 lots since its creation last summer.

Matt Martin, the director of the TNP, said the neighborhood’s participation is essential for Lots to Love, with the community’s volunteer labor helping to expand the budget and open up more options for the lots.

“We require there to be a shepherd, a group or an individual who is willing to take on the maintenance of the site,” Martin said. “TNP is not here to maintain this site going forward. This is the community’s.

“We own the property, but the idea is this is a community space – driven by community and taken on by community,” he said.

The community’s “shepherd,” Dan Bagaglia, whose house is directly adjacent to the space, said he and his neighbors wanted to provide a safe, clean space for kids in the neighborhood.

In addition to improving the the property value of the area and removing blight, Martin said these spaces build the community itself. Osterico agreed, saying she finally got to know neighbors who had lived there for nine years.

“We all stay in our yards, but I got to meet my neighbors. It is just nice to have the community all work together,” she said.

Martin said neighborhoods with abandoned homes can reach out to the TNP. The TNP chooses properties owned by the Trumbull County Land Bank for demolition or revitalization based on a rating system of A to F, with both of the properties in the Garden District rating a D or F.

“There are around 1,500 vacant houses in the city of Warren,” he said. “If a property is sort of on the fence but every neighbor wants it down, and then city hall calls about it, then that is a no-brainer.”

Martin said improvement doesn’t have to stop there with the Lots to Love initiative. After demolition, community members can put together a work plan to “green” the vacant lots for public use. Funded through the Ohio Housing and Finance Agency’s Neighborhood Initiative Program, the TNP can provide up to $6,000 to revitalize these sites.

The space in the Garden District was the product of two demolitions, so $12,000 was available to the community. Martin said TNP spent $10,000 on the project.

Martin encouraged communities to pursue this possibility.

“This project can be replicated throughout the city,” he said. “I want people to look at this hoop and instead of saying, ‘Why isn’t there one in my neighborhood,’ please reach out, and we will figure out how to get one in your neighborhood.”

lbouquet@tribtoday.com