The Weinland Park that Brandyn McElroy moved into in 2012 is not the Weinland Park of today.
Back then, and when he served on the safety committee of the Weinland Park Community Civic Association in 2013, crime was the No. 1 concern reported by people living in the neighborhood.
The racially and socioeconomically diverse neighborhood sits in the southeast corner of the University District — bound by North High Street to the west, Chittenden Avenue to the north, East Fifth Avenue to the south and railroad tracks on the east boundary. The area includes student housing, family housing and a middle school.
A billboard displaying alcohol advertisements on the lot of a beer barn seemed to overshadow and speak for the community, McElroy said.
The billboard was located on the busy intersection of North Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue for thousands to see every day as they drove by.
“We said, ‘We can take this back, we can make this ours,’” McElroy said.
A year ago, they did just that.
The Weinland Park Collaborative, which includes the Community Civic Association of which McElroy is now president, Fortune 500 companies, the city of Columbus and Ohio State University, pooled $50,600 to rent out the billboard for a year and commission a series of four murals that rotated every three months for the duration of the lease.
OSU’s Wexner Center for the Arts and Campus Partners were involved in the project, and the university donated $7,500. Campus Partners, OSU’s nonprofit development arm, has a history of working in the neighborhood.
Campus Partners “primarily (focuses) on the stabilization of real estate and the neighborhood’s physical environment,” Erin Prosser, director of community development for Campus Partners, said in an email. She added that the billboard project was “directly in line with (its) mission to support the revitalization of the surrounding community.”
While others were supportive of the project financially, McElroy said that the artistic process came from the community, which was important.
“We have a lot of organizations coming into Weinland Park,” McElroy said, from Ohio State to national and local nongovernmental organizations. “And as a community, you can feel as though you are losing yourself.”
The billboard was a way for the community to say exactly who they were.
“(The mural project) was (the community) stating our identity, that we aren’t about the alcohol ads, we’re about something positive,” McElroy said. “And it got people talking about those positives.”
John Grosvenor, a Weinland Park resident and freelance illustrator, was one of the artists who worked with local youths on the project.
“(They) were integral in the design, obviously, but without them the project would have had a whole lot less impact,” Grosvenor said. “They are what this neighborhood will be in 15-20 years.”
The lease is set to run out in April, and like the neighborhood itself, the future of the project is uncertain.
Both McElroy and Grosvenor had heard rumblings of continuing the project for another year but said nothing solid had been decided.
Prosser, of Campus Partners, also said she had “no information on plans to continue (the project) after April.”
The one thing everyone is certain of is that Weinland Park is changing.
“That billboard is a symbol of change,” McElroy said, “It was a message of that’s who you thought we were, but this is who we really are.”
Change has brought new problems to the neighborhood, however. Instead of fighting crime, now the Community Civic Association is focusing on ways to keep residents in the neighborhood, among other concerns.
“We are an area of families, including single parents — a full array of families and communities,” McElroy said, adding that students live in the area as well. “Housing has really come to a forefront. We want to make sure all of our residents can stay as they transition out of supportive housing, and can move into affordable housing and not have to move outside of the neighborhood.”