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Nestled into Columbus' downtown Bible-belt, Ninth Street Park is a place for neighbors and children to get together. But there are also those who worry about a less-savory side to activities around the park. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
Long-time downtown resident Jackie Combest poses at Ninth Street Park. Combest contends that the solution to a few bad attitudes visiting the park is a better showing of concern by the everyone else, and not fencing or an earlier curfew. (Joe Harpring | The Republic)
They’ve seen fights, drug activity, juvenile problems and suspicious behavior. Now Columbus residents who live near Ninth Street Park are fighting to get their neighborhood under control.
Neighborhood residents have shared their concerns with police, who have responded by providing more than one extra patrol per day at the park, at Ninth and Wilson streets.
“The biggest thing is drugs and fights at the basketball court. ... There are a lot of people in the park after hours,” said Jack Combest, who lives on Eighth Street and has been a resident of the neighborhood since 1964.
The park is open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Drugs are a big concern because of activity residents have witnessed, said
Lt. Matt Myers, public information officer for the Columbus Police Department. But information provided by residents has helped police investigate drug activity in the area and make arrests, he added.
Police also have received a substantial increase in calls for fights at the park and a slight increase in calls for suspicious activity and juvenile problems, according to call logs from the county’s emergency dispatch center.
“The neighborhood has deteriorated,” said Terry Anderson, who lives two houses away from the park on Short Wilson Street and has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.
City officials considered the problems so important that a neighborhood meeting was conducted Nov. 13 at Second Baptist Church, just north of the park. The purpose was to explain city and police efforts to improve the park and neighborhood and help set up a neighborhood watch program.
Through mid-November, the Columbus Police Department had provided 374 extra patrols. Extra patrols can result from phone calls from concerned residents or because of problems identified by police, Myers said.
At the Nov. 13 meeting, Mayor Kristen Brown told residents that she is considering tougher local ordinances to address criminal activity and abandoned homes. She also pledged more timely responses to residents’ complaints and said she also would pursue a computer system to more effectively log complaints and respond to them in a more timely manner.
Randy Allman, who grew up in the neighborhood in the 1960s but now lives in another part of Columbus, said the area doesn’t have a lot of violent crime, but enough problems to make it a less attractive place to live.
“(The neighborhood) can have its days when it’s a mixed bag of (problems), but for the most part people are trying to stay one step ahead of creditors. It doesn’t make for settling down,” said Allman, who has worked since 1994 at the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, a nonprofit resource center at 1039 Sycamore St. that provides a variety of programs to nearby residents.
The area the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center serves stretches from Columbus City Hall on Second Street north to 17th Street and from Lawton Avenue eastward to Bernice Street. The Ninth Street Park neighborhood falls within those boundaries.
Demographic information for the Lincoln-Central area shows that:
74 percent of households have low to moderate incomes.
33 percent of homes are occupied by the owners, while 67 percent are rented.
50.3 percent of households are occupied by families.
The average household size is 2.24 people.
The median resident age is 32.5.
84 percent of residents are white, 8 percent Hispanic or Latino, 5 percent black and 3 percent other.
The neighborhood is 50 percent male and 50 percent female.
Neighborhood residents and stakeholders said the problems didn’t occur overnight and are related to a longtime decline of the neighborhood.
Combest estimated that, in the late 1970s, about three-fourths of the neighborhood homes were occupied by the homeowners. The residents knew each other, and there was more accountability among people, he said.
Allman said that when the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center opened in 1994, a study showed that 50 percent of the neighborhood homes were occupied by the owners. Now, only one-third of the homeowners occupy the homes. Many of the homes have been converted into
“One of the big issues I see is the transiency issue,” Allman said.
With fewer neighborhood residents having an investment in the area, there’s less neighborhood pride, he said.
That manifests itself in a variety of ways.
“We see more littering than in the past, so we’ve done more neighborhood cleanups,” Allman said.
Vacant houses make the neighborhood look bad and invite problems, Anderson said.
“There’s a lot of foot traffic through the neighborhood because of the location. My concern is abandoned houses. People might go in and stay,” Anderson said.
The park and the surrounding neighborhood are a contrast in images.
The park looks current and fresh. The playground has two climbing areas for kids, one of which looks like a giant spider web. A concrete basketball court has six baskets, and a metal swing set has six swings. The park also has a shelter, two picnic tables, five benches and a bike rack.
A lot of the surrounding homes are older and have seen better days. Many have faded paint. Some have cement porches that are cracked and sloping. Windows covered by blankets or boards are plentiful. Broken windows are common at vacant houses. However, a few well-kept homes are nestled among many that need more attention.
Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center is working on a master plan that will address how to improve the quality of housing and make the neighborhood more attractive and make it a neighborhood of choice, Allman said.
“We’re trying to re-establish traditional values neighborhoods have,” Allman said.
The belief is that a result of improving the neighborhood is that crime or other problems will be reduced.
Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center already has made some strides, starting a tool-lending program and a backyard garden campaign, Allman said.
Future plans likely will address what to do with some of the rundown and vacant homes. Attracting people to refurbish them or leveling some to create green space could be options, Allman added.
In the meantime, police are providing extra patrols and providing assistance on creating a neighborhood watch program.
Combest said he appreciates the extra patrols, which picked up in August.
From Sept. 9 through Nov. 18 — the most recent call logs reviewed by The Republic — the police received no calls related to a fight at the park and just one call each for a theft, battery and drug activity.
“I think the extra patrols have gotten a lot of extra activity out of the park,” Combest said.
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