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South Side Renewal Afoot After 2012 State Of City Address Promise

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman will make his annual state of the city address this evening at South High School. The event’s location is not far from some substantial improvements being made to the city’s South Side neighborhood, a proposal made in last year’s address. WOSU looks back on some of last year’s promises. “New gutters, downspouts, totally re-sided the entire house, replaced the front porch, replaced my entry door, and installed three new windows, power washed and painted the foundation," William Duncan said. Duncan's Innis Avenue home looks lot better now than it did when he bought it a year ago. The work, which included a new roof, was paid for with a $15,000 South Side Renaissance grant. “All the craftsman were very good. I mean, they tore off the roof and had the roof on within two days. I don’t think it even sat overnight without a cover on it.â€? The grants are part of Mayor Coleman’s plan to revitalize Columbus’ South Side which he announced during last year’s Bicentennial State of the City address. Once a thriving industrial neighborhood, South Side factories shut down over the years. Unemployment rates rose and home values fell as abandoned and run-down properties blighted residential streets. Last year, Coleman said, “high teen pregnancy, infant mortality and death rates for chronic diseases plague the neighborhood.â€? Coleman vowed to fix the problems. Several local business people and community groups offered to help. Private donations totaled more than $5 million. Some of that money, along with city funds, has gone toward tearing down and replacing dilapidated homes and building 40 new ones. Duncan points through his kitchen window toward two homes under construction next door. “They’re moving really fast. Our street changes every day with the numbers that are going up or coming down. Dump trucks have been going like crazy," Duncan said. The South Side Renaissance project offers repair grants for homes bound by Morrill Avenue, Parsons Avenue, Hosack Street and South High Street. The mayor’s goal was to renovate 50 homes in a year. So far, 17 have been refurbished; the rest are to be completed by September. Workers are rehabbing the old Reeb Avenue Elementary School with public and private money. The building will house a child care center and other social services for the neighborhood. Work also on the new John R. Maloney Family Health and Wellness Center located on Parsons Avenue began last September. It will replace the one torn down in 2006 after building inspectors deemed it unsafe. The mayor, last year, said it will, “offer a full range of services for everybody to infants to senior citizens.â€? Don Kelley, a Columbus real estate developer who grew up on the South Side, donated to the effort. Kelley anticipates the area’s housing stock will improve within the next five years as affordable housing and services attract more young people. “And we’ve got to make it safe, and we realize that. And it’s a lot safer today than it was a year ago," Kelley said. "And it’s perceived to be a lot safer today than it was a year ago. So, in time, with the commitment of the city, we’ll help keep this area safe down there.â€? Innis Avenue’s William Duncan said the area is safer. In 2009, two dozen arsons swept through the neighborhood’s abandoned homes. But Duncan said fires are rare now. “The buildings aren’t there setting empty, you know, attracting unsavory happenings...so, yeah, it’s changed. It’s changed a lot.â€? Still, Duncan talks to people who are not convinced the area has the ability to thrive. Investor Don Kelley said while progress on some projects may be slow, it’s steady. “I think you come back a year from now you’ll see further improvement," Duncan chuckled.