Legacy project breathes new life into historic Cherry StreetWritten by Tom Konecny | | email@example.com
The Cherry Street Legacy Project is a community partnership that began with the vision of creating a stronger and safer neighborhood for those along and around Cherry Street.
Focusing on the stretch between the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge (which many still call the Cherry Street Bridge) and I-75, the project preserves the neighborhood’s proud past as its residents forge together into the future.
“It’s amazing,” said Karen Rogalski, project coordinator. “It has changed the flavor of the neighborhood.”
Several entities collaborate on the project, but it all began in 2005 with one of Cherry Street’s prominent occupants and Downtown’s only hospital, Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.
At that time, St. V’s board members were discussing a potential move to the suburbs for the hospital, mainly in response to doctors who said they didn’t feel safe coming to work.
After much discussion, the board decided to stay, but not without a neighborhood improvement plan. They knew as the value of the neighborhood rose, so would the hospital’s. After a detailed written strategy was put together, it sat untouched for several years until Rogalski was recruited to put it into action around 2008.
Rather than call a community meeting, she immediately started hitting the pavement.
“We went out and we interviewed 200-plus houses,” Rogalski said. “Out of that we interviewed 100 ‘man on the street’ people and asked ‘What are the perceptions of people coming in the area?’ We looked at each individual parcel, and during that period of time I physically mapped parcel by parcel and really got to understand the neighborhood.”
Rogalski found the single largest issue was crime, followed by blight and empty lots. While qualitative data would drive what work to do, Rogalski knew the strategy had to come from the people.
The group began to work with the city on code enforcement, no easy task due to numerous historic homes in the area that couldn’t be immediately demolished. They helped landowners next to blighted properties purchase them for $100, thus facilitating their demolition and providing an end user to care for the land.
New houses were erected on some lots, with builders working with the group and NeighborWorks Toledo Region to develop new homes that blended well with historic properties.
Interviewing residents also helped the group realize there was growing concern about Moody Manor, resulting in increased block watch participation. Originally there was just one block watch group in the area; now there are three, all of which have generated ideas to keep youth out of crime.
“Police come to our crime meetings,” Rogalski said. “We’ve started to talk the same language, and there’s no magic answer, but we have reduced crime and changed crime.”
Knowing that improved lighting is one way to mitigate misconduct, Rogalski spent some early morning hours driving the streets and found that not only were 80 street lights out, but that residents didn’t know how to report them. After talking with FirstEnergy, the group developed a plan whereby residents merely place duct tape on poles to signal a bulb needs to be replaced.
Another group involved with the collaboration is the Cherry Street Development Organization, whose members include St. V’s, Central Catholic High School, United North and various nonprofits.
“Karen Rogalski knows this project inside and out, and I’m just along for the ride and to support it in any way I can,” said president Mike Boyle. “She’s done a phenomenal job.
“There’s a lot of different groups that are doing good. There’s just too much negativity in the media, and I’m tired of it. They’re throwing it in your face constantly, and it’s like there’s an agenda to bring down our city.”
For now, the Cherry Street Legacy Project will continue to play its part in facilitating a massive group effort.
“We’ve done some really interesting things to reduce crime,” Rogalski said. “There’s these little things we continue to build on.”
For more information, visit Cherry Street Legacy Project on Facebook.