The Oak Hill Collaborative gave a much-needed shot of adrenaline to the neighborhoods of Uptown Youngstown. New playgrounds, community gardens and blight removal are just some of the changes the neighborhood seen over the last year.
Rick Pollo brings us the story.
St. Patrick’s Church is at the heart of the collaboration. The project’s director, Patrick Kerrigan, is also president of the church’s parish council.
KERRIGAN: Now, it’s my main job to acquire property. I’ve probably acquired 50 to 60 lots from the city, from estates.
The former judge says the Oak Hill Collaborative converted some vacant lots into community gardens and partnered with Grow Youngstown. They’ve also successfully torn down abandoned properties and helped restore others. Their biggest project to date: The restoration of what’s now the project’s home and epicenter.
KERRIGAN: This building is abandoned. We need to put our money where our mouth is and show that we can restore, retain and repair some of these buildings.
The one-story brick building, located at 507 Oak Hill, was in bad shape, with no utility lines and stripped to the foundation.
KERRIGAN: Totally and completely gutted, down to the concrete walls. It had a hole in the roof. No electric, no plumbing, no windows. We redid it completely. We’re very proud of it.
The 1930s boomed in uptown Youngstown. A variety of businesses accented the neighborhoods along Market Street, Hillman Street and Oak Hill Avenue. But the post-war era was not kind to the neighborhood, as the economy began to decline. A mass exodus following the closing of the mills, leaving much of the neighborhood’s properties to lay dormant, attracting only crime and hardship for those remaining. According to the 2012 census, nearly 50 percent of the Uptown residents are at or below the poverty line.
The Rev. Edward Noga has been the head of St. Patrick’s Church for 29 years. He says during his tenure, he’s seen the neighborhood at it’s absolute lowest.
NOGA: I would say year 10, which would have been 1995, this probably hit the skids here as far as crime, arsons, that type of thing.
Noga says the Oak Hill Collaborative’s efforts have given people hope.
NOGA: The neighborhood now is in much better shape because vacant houses have been torn down. There’ve been developments like this one that have given people some new hope. And there’s a renewed interest as our downtown continues to take on a whole new persona.
Kerrigan stresses the Oak Hill Collaborative gets a majority of its money from private investors.
KERRIGAN: This is not a government program, where we get the money to do this. We’ve raised the money to do it ourselves. It shows a sign of hope and that people are willing to invest.
Kerrigan hopes the new Oak Hill Collaborative building will house up to 15 tenants, including several start-ups and a 3D-printing business.
Reporting for TheNewsOutlet.org, I’m Rick Pollo.
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, The University of Akron, Cuyahoga Community College and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator (Youngstown), The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).