Issue: March/April 2012
Community Impact Awards 2012: Central State
Burten, Bell, Carr Development’s transformation of vacant, dilapidated rowhouses creates a welcome mat of opportunity.
Ten years ago, prostitutes roamed the street, drug dealers staked claim to the abandoned houses lining the block, and addicts would solicit door to door for food or money to buy drugs. Residents lived in fear, retreating to their homes at dusk.
These days, signs of East 73rd Street’s past are difficult to spot. “You’re talking about day and night,” says Brenda Metzger, vice president of the neighborhood block club.
Metzger moved to the area with her late husband in 2002, only to find that their new house was surrounded by crime. The home, built by Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc., was one of the community development organization’s early efforts to revitalize East 73rd between Cedar and Central avenues. As a part of the East Central Place project, the neighborhood development organization built 26 new homes on the street since 2003 and added a total of 75 new housing units.
With the neighborhood pointed in the right direction, it became a federal Weed and Seed site to eliminate drug activity and support positive social and economic programs. A block club was founded, which sought out grant funding, repurposed vacant land, held block parties and lobbied to get a row of vacant homes demolished.
But there was still more to be done. In 2009 they turned their attention to a historical eight-unit rowhouse building. All but one of the units was vacant, neglected and crumbling — an ugly safehouse for crime.
“We didn’t want a building that was a haven for drug activity and other illicit crimes to threaten the progress,” says Jeffrey Sugalski, real estate development manager for Burten, Bell, Carr. “Everything started to turn around when those new homes were built.”
After years of negotiation, the development corporation bought the building for $20,000. They had their work cut out for them: Leaking roofs, broken windows, peeling paint and buckling floors were just the start. “They dumped chemicals and old paint and televisions in some of the units, and some had water and sewage in the basement,” Sugalski says. “It was one of the most disgusting buildings I have ever seen.”
Two and a half years and $1.2 million later, the three-bedroom units have been transformed with high-efficiency furnaces, Energy Star-rated windows, doors and appliances, and new, welcoming porches. The building, now called the East Central Townhomes, is priced for low- to moderate-income families.
Nearby, a vacant lot was turned into the neighborhood centerpiece: an $80,000 playground. “It’s a phenomenal project,” says Sugalski, “and an amazing comeback story.”
“Before we were just houses,” Metzger adds. “Now we’re becoming a community.”
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