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10 Years After Floodwall Franklinton Renewal Slowly Moves Forward

It’s been almost ten years since a floodwall was completed in Franklinton. For a struggling neighborhood that experienced devastating floods, city and community leaders thought the floodwall was the key to revitalizing the area. But WOSU reports the multi-million dollar efforts have not advanced as quickly as some had hoped. “The floodwall was that first point at which people started to see hope again in the community,â€? Jeff Mohrman said. Mohrman, assistant director of the Franklinton Development Association, lives on Martin Avenue, one of three streets the association placed its focus for redevelopment with a mix of local and federal funds. During the past five years, government has invested more than $2.5 million in the Franklinton area. In 2007, as the neighborhood began to improve aesthetically, Mohrman said, “home values were starting to sell for $100,000, $115,000, which we hadn’t seen that down here in Franklinton for a very long time.â€? Then the economy tanked. The recession caused some private renewal projects to stall. Neighborhood residents lost their jobs. And banks foreclosed on homes. “The downturn in 2008, 2009 obviously was a huge hurdle to overcome," Mohrman said. Franklinton still struggles to recover the gains it made before the downturn. Vacant homes remain boarded up on almost every street. The city counts about 500 abandoned homes. But improvement efforts continue; in all, 155 homes have been built or rehabbed over the past decade. And Mohrman said they are a great value for people who can visualize the future of the neighborhood. “Recognizing that you are getting, especially in these revitalized houses, sometimes two to one, three to one for your money." Vivian Blair rents one of the rehabbed homes on Martin Avenue. On a recent Wednesday morning she rakes her lawn. Blair, who is retired from Mount Carmel Hospital, is a longtime Franklinton resident. “I like it here. One of the best places I’ve lived in Columbus to tell you the truth, Blair said. Despite the area’s crime, Blair takes walks around the neighborhood, and she says she feels safe. And she encourages people to ignore what she calls “rumorsâ€? about Franklinton. “Check it out. Check it out and see what we’re really all about.â€? So we did check it out. We went to Avondale Avenue, just a few streets southwest of the well-kempt lawns of Martin Avenue. There, just a couple blocks away, the scene is much different. Some of the lawns are overgrown. Trash and children’s toys litter yards. There are some vacant and boarded up houses, some of which are a canvas for graffiti. And just a block or so away on West State Street, a man who’s updating his home says he will move away as soon as the work is complete. He declined to be recorded, but he told us crime and disrespectful neighbors are the main reasons for his decision to leave Franklinton. He said, “you can’t get any peace.â€? And this is part of the challenge Franklinton faces...how to convince people to move to the area before renewal efforts have matured; how to revitalize the area without displacing its lowest income residents? “There may be a larger concentration of petty theft and vandalism down there. There may be some culture issues people don’t recognize when they move here," Mohrman said. "But we try to make people aware of those early on so it’s not a sticker shock, you know, so they don’t move in like, ‘oh my goodness;’ come in with eyes wide open.â€? Franklinton’s close vicinity to downtown, though, is an asset. But unlike German Village or Victorian Village, which also went through renaissances, Franklinton’s housing stock is not on par with those two communities. “We understand that the bones of the houses here are not of the same quality of that they are in other neighborhoods. And, yes, that is a hindrance," Mohrman said. Norwood “Buzzâ€? Thomas is a realtor for Coldwell Banker King Thompson. Thomas has been in the industry for 30 years. And for him, the low quality housing stock is not the area’s biggest disadvantage. Thomas’ work currently focuses on the area around Children’s hospital, a community also going through a renewal. “The development is being supported by a corporate standpoint by Children’s hospital. Children’s Hospital has the desire to be the number one children’s hospital in the country," Thomas said. "So they have invested a lot of dollars and cents. Franklinton has yet to establish that relationship as I see it in getting that kind of corporate support.â€? It’s tough to sell a house in Franklinton. Thomas said homes for sale are not heavily marketed. “Most people who list houses in Franklinton never have open houses as they do in other neighborhoods. People don’t come," Thomas noted. Many of the Franklinton home sales are done so by word of mouth. Regardless of its disadvantages, though, Thomas is optimistic Franklinton can be a thriving community. “Victorian Village is one of a kind. The Short North is one of a kind," he said. "I think Franklinton having a unique vision is great. All that does is it gives Columbus additional flavor.â€? For Franklinton Development Association’s Jeff Mohrman, he wants Franklinton to just be Franklinton. “And everything that comes with that from the historical roots of the neighborhood to the worker mentality, the middle-class neighborhood that has good schools that allows for good homeownership but that isn’t unaffordable," Mohrman said. "And really just give people that already live here a better place to live.â€? With the housing market and economy stabilizing, a lot is planned for Franklinton in the coming years. Local artists are targeting the area’s low rents. Some of them have set up shop in old warehouses, hoping Franklinton becomes the city’s next arts district. In 2013, a new public middle school will open along with a new charter high school. And the development association plans to raze about 100 vacant homes through 2015.