When Ohio State’s Campus Partners collaborated with the City of Columbus to revitalize the Weinland Park neighborhood in the early 2000s, it began a process of making the area more desirable to live for everyone, including students.
Now, the neighborhood, once thought of as forgotten by the city, is “getting better,” according to a 2016 survey by Ohio State’s Kirwan Institute. In fact, 32 percent more residents believe this to be true than did six years before.
The small pocket of housing surrounding the namesake elementary school southeast of Ohio State’s campus has always been an outlier in relation to the rest of the University District. While students inhabit virtually every corner of the University District, Weinland Park was not emphasized as a spot for students, said Erin Prosser, the director of community development for Campus Partners, Ohio State’s nonprofit real estate extension.
“We wanted the neighborhood to be safer for the whole community, being near Ohio State and being affiliated with Ohio State and the safety of the students,” she said. “I don’t know that the goal has ever been for there to be a significant increase in students living in that community necessarily.”
Now, roughly 18 percent of Weinland Park is occupied by Ohio State students, according to the Kirwan survey.
“Certainly students feel safer in this area than they did before the investments really went into the community,” Prosser said. “Weinland Park has seen an 80 percent drop in crime. That is not a small thing.”
For first-time residents Jamie Annis and Kamryn Queen, the proximity to campus and relatively low rent made them decide it was a good place to live. In fact, Queen, a third-year in environmental policy, already re-signed her lease for next year.
I don’t like football, I don’t like beer pong. I actually hate all that, so that’s why I lived away from it. – Matt Adair, co-chair of the Weinland Park Civic Association’s housing committee
Living on Indianola Avenue between East Seventh and East Eighth avenues, Queen said she had heard the negative stigma that used to surround Weinland Park before she decided to move there, but it didn’t scare her off.
“I was told that years ago where I live now was a really bad place,” she said. “They started flipping it and making it better so probably still not a lot of students know that. But it probably still has that stigma that it used to be dangerous. Now it definitely feels safe, or as safe as a campus area can be.”
For Queen’s roommate Annis, a third-year in Spanish, the experience has been decidedly different, though still positive overall.
Annis had her car broken into twice in the six months since she moved in and said her dad expressed concern over her decision to live in the neighborhood.
“I don’t feel safe if I stay here alone, honestly,” she said while her golden retriever, Oliver, sat at her feet. “I feel paranoid all the time. So I’m happy I have [Oliver].”
However, respondents to the survey said they felt safer in 2016 than when first asked in 2010, and car break-ins are a common occurrence across the University District.
While still part of the University District, Weinland Park provides an alternative to students uninterested in the predominant culture of the neighborhoods central to campus.
“I’m from Columbus and you would have never caught me living between 11th and Northwood or something,” said Matt Adair, co-chair of the Weinland Park Civic Association’s housing committee who has lived in Weinland Park for six years, including while earning his master’s degree from Ohio State. “I don’t like football, I don’t like beer pong. I actually hate all that, so that’s why I lived away from it.”
The real-estate and construction boom in the area in the past 10 years has conjured typical buzzwords such as gentrification and development, both direct reflections of the reported $250 million of outside investments the neighborhood has seen.
With new and outside money comes long-time residents’ fear of being forced out, some of whom, like Elizabeth Kloss, a homeowner in Weinland Park for almost 20 years, have seen their neighbors leave.
“There has been a lot of change in the last 20 years,” she said. “We’ve gone from having real issues with vacant housing to dealing with density issues and people being displaced. Both good and bad, we have lost a lot of lovely neighbors who have been priced out of the neighborhood.”
In an effort to accommodate residents and maintain input while improving the area, the Weinland Park Collaborative was established in 2008, which partnered community leaders and residents with more than a dozen different public and private entities.
Matt Hansen, the executive director of the University District Organization, attributed the increased interest in the area to the relatively low price compared to central-campus living, as well as the sense of safety the neighborhood now brings.
“You’re seeing investment in the homes in Weinland Park,” Hansen said. “If you’re looking at a student market, some of those have been geared towards those individuals. But we also have a lot of homes that have been renovated and have families in them now. Over a long-term period, the crime has gone down for the area and it seems like it’s a safer, more attractive destination now.”
Construction has included renovation to formerly vacant properties within the neighborhood and major developments along the neighborhood’s perimeter — The Highline at Nine and One Pearl Place apartment complexes along North High Street, and the Grant Park housing complex along North Grant Avenue.
Grant Park has been home to Alvaro Montenegro, an assistant professor of geography, and his wife since 2015. It has been “maybe one of the best living arrangements overall” he has ever had, he said.
Ohio State offers a zero-interest forgivable down-payment loan to staff members who buy housing in the University District, which Montenegro took advantage of, though he said it wasn’t the determining factor in he and his wife’s decision to move to the neighborhood.
“While [the loan] wasn’t super important, it was a plus,” he said. “I’m very happy to be able to walk to work. I’m a little bit over a mile door-to-door for my office and my home. That’s fantastic. The neighborhood is also close to — I can do a lot of things just walking. It’s not only coming to work. The supermarket is nearby. The Short North is right there. We love it.”
As Columbus continues to see an increase in its population, Hansen said more people will gravitate to Weinland Park.
“Columbus is growing at an astronomical pace compared to the rest of Ohio,” he said. “It’s like 10 to 20,000 people a year, and those people need places to live.”
As far as neighborhood growth goes, Adair said he hopes incoming residents, including students, will do their part to keep the neighborhood trending in the right direction.
“The reason that owner-occupants fled central campus in the ‘50s and ‘60s was because they didn’t want to live next to students who were being disrespectful, basically, and partying and leaving trash everywhere,” he said. “We’re trying to have a high quality of life in this neighborhood and it seems like the central campus core doesn’t really offer that, so we’d like to somehow preserve that here.”