WARREN - An effort to bring people back to Warren is starting to take root - literally.
Trumbull 100, Gregg's Gardens and Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership are pushing a plan to repopulate a 22-block area near the city center. The first step is to plant up to 100 new wildflower lots before the end of the year.
"I'm hoping that more people see the gardens as an essential component as the revitalization effort of the city," Dennis Blank, a spokesman for the all-volunteer Gregg's Gardens, said. "There already are about 60 empty lots in the central city neighborhoods in which we are focusing our efforts."
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Gregg’s Gardens volunteer Dennis Blank, left, Diane Sauer from Trumbull 100, center, and Matt Martin from Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, stand outside what is to become the Gregg’s Garden District Info Center at Belmont Street and Mercer Avenue N.E.
Blank said once the demolition of properties with money from the Moving Ohio Forward grant begins, there should be sufficient empty lots where Gregg's Gardens can achieve its goal.
Gregg's Gardens has planted 22 wildflower gardens downtown in the last two years.
The central city is bordered by Mahoning Avenue on the west, Atlantic Street on the north, Elm Road on the east and High Street on the south. It contains more than 800 dwellings and many churches, businesses and local landmarks, according to the group.
"These are the city's oldest and most charming neighborhoods," Diane Sauer, president of Trumbull 100, said. "They are within walking distance to downtown, Harding High School, the amphitheater and city parks. While we have seen an increased number of abandoned houses over the years - especially in the garden district - they are well worth revitalization and we must make that happen."
Proving their desire to draw people back to Warren, Gregg's Gardens is setting up its information center in a refurbished house at the corner of Belmont Street and Mercer Avenue N.E.
The gardens are one step in the groups' effort to bring residents back to the city, Sauer said.
"We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attract people coming in the area because of the shale industry," Sauer said. "We will have people who will be able to buy some of these fixer-upper houses for relatively low prices, put in another $10,000 or more in cash or sweat equity and have nice homes in which to live."
Sauer cited the Victorian Village neighborhood in Columbus as an example of what can be accomplished when residents, business leaders and city officials work together.
"Some years ago, there was a neighborhood, just south of the campus at The Ohio State University, that was kind of run down and known for being a place where there was a high concentration of rentals," she said. "It kind of reminded me of some areas in Warren."
Sauer said the houses will become more attractive to potential buyers if they are not next to abandoned homes and empty lots.
"With the Moving Ohio Forward funds, the city will tear down the homes in the worse condition and volunteers with Gregg's Gardens on lots next to them," Sauer said. "This effort will make mid-level homes more attractive."
Warren's central city is a unique asset that should be used in a positive manner, said Matt Martin, head of the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.
"Very few cities have a significant residential neighborhood within easing walking distance to downtown," Martin said.
Chris Thompson, a member of the Greater Cleveland-based Fund for Our Economic Future will work with the group to fund some projects.
The Fund for Our Economic Future is a collaboration of philanthropic organization that have strengthen the economic competitiveness of 16 Northeast Ohio counties through grant making, research and civic engagement.
"The Fund helps local communities like Warren to connect to regional assets that can help them address their most pressing economic priorities," Thompson said.