Exploring a neighborhood's struggles and possibilities

This yearlong, monthly series about Linden explores the North Side neighborhood's struggles and possibilities. In the final part of our series we recap what we've learned and look to the future.

Residents see opportunities, continued struggles and cautious optimism in Linden's future

Eight years ago, Sheldon Jones bought a house on East 24th Avenue at a sheriff's sale for $45,000. The owner was behind on taxes. The house is just down the street from where he lives.

Jones, a 44-year-old truck driver, owns several rental properties. The one he bought on East 24th has been vacant for six years, but he is now spending as much as $35,000 to fix it up to his standards before renting it out. That means new vinyl siding, porch railings, a brand-new kitchen and stripping the plaster walls to the studs and replacing them with drywall.

"The time for me is right to do it now," Jones said. He likes the direction the neighborhood is heading, but he still sees out-of-town investors buying properties and quickly flipping them without making many improvements.

"I'm not against capitalism. I'm not against people renting or flipping. They should do it in a responsible way, good for the neighborhood," he said.

Doing what's good for Linden: That is what residents and community leaders have long wanted.

There are positive things happening, they say. The city is building a $25 million Linden Community Center. Hudson Street, a main thoroughfare through the heart of Linden, is being rebuilt. More sidewalks and streetlights are being added. Self-driving shuttles will begin in November.

And Nationwide Children's Hospital is pursuing a grant to expand its Healthy Homes program to the Linden neighborhood. So far, the program has provided $30 million to repair 167 home, build 31 new homes and do rehabilitation work to 64 others on the South Side near the hospital's campus.

Hospital officials remain mum on what their plans are for Linden. But Linden has long needed a champion to boost the neighborhood's fortunes.

Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said he remains committed to his pledge to revive Linden, along with the Hilltop.

But some residents such as John Lathram, who has lived in North Linden for 25 years, remain skeptical. They say problems still abound including abandoned homes, prostitution, speeding traffic along Cleveland Avenue and other crimes.

"Linden has been ignored for 30 years," Lathram said. "We have to stop the decay before we can grow."

Ginther said he understands.

"If I were a long-time resident of Linden, I would share that healthy skepticism," he said. "They've been dealt curveballs for 30, 40, 50 years. This is going to take time."

The city released its One Linden plan in 2018. It outlines a vision that includes a new downtown Linden at Myrtle and Cleveland avenues and two other retail "nodes" at Hudson Street and Interstate 71 and Cleveland and East 11th avenues.

Jennifer Adair, a Columbus school board member and former leader of the North Linden Area Commission, said she wants to see that plan become a reality.

"The biggest difference in this plan is the amount of community support from the ground," Adair said. "If we can continue that momentum, be engaged, we'll see progress."

Adair also supports police initiatives in the area, including bike patrols that connect officers with the community.

"The neighborhood's becoming more attractive. Our values are going up. We want to make sure we remain a very affordable neighborhood in the market," she said.

Real estate agent and Linden resident Sundi Corner has seen an uptick in home sales in both North and South Linden in the past year, with houses now selling for $40,000 to $75,000. Just a few years ago, she said similar homes were going for between $7,000 and $20,000.

"It's hard to find homes at the lower (prices)," Corner said. "It's good and bad."

Good because home values were depressed for years. Bad because higher values mean higher property taxes. Corner is worried that will eventually result in pressures on long-time homeowners who could be forced to move, although now there doesn't seem to be any immediate pressure.

And she is seeing out-of-state investors, often a bane of many central city neighborhoods, buying up houses in Linden.

"We're doing virtual walk-throughs, clients in California with phones," Corner said.

She said many of them are making minor repairs, "putting together matchsticks, not doing thorough work." They are buying houses that have been vacant for 15 or 20 years, Corner said, and just slapping on some siding and painting walls when there are bigger problems with these homes that need addressed.

"These houses should have been torn down a long time ago," she said.

Entrepreneurs also have seen opportunities in Linden. That includes husband and wife team Peter Moon and Sally Carroll, who have been trying to build their Mad Moon Craft Cidery over the past five years in an out-of-the-way industrial park off Cleveland Avenue that used to be the site of Linden Beach, a swimming pool and summertime magnet for Linden children.

Moon said they selected the location because the rent was right. They have created a taproom, and frequent a nearby Somali coffee shop and the Cook's IGA on Oakland Park Avenue.

"We feel really safe here," Carroll said. She and Moon live in New Albany.

David Cook is the owner and manager of the IGA. He bought the store in 1989. Since then, there have been many ups and downs. The past eight years have been particularly difficult and Cook that he might have to close his doors.

Then the Kroger at Northern Lights closed in January 2018, which increased his business but also boosted the number of thefts at his story, he said.

Cook wants to stay in business as long as he can and said he’d like to see a little more police presence.

He said the number of rental properties near his store have increased and he’d like to see more families move back to the area.

"We have to do something about crime," he said.

Peter Moon, left, and Sally Carroll, right, during an interview with the Dispatch Monday, April 15, 2019, at Mad Moon Cidery in Linden. [Fred Squillante/Dispatch]

Peter Moon, left, and Sally Carroll, right, during an interview with the Dispatch Monday, April 15, 2019, at Mad Moon Cidery in Linden. [Fred Squillante/Dispatch]
Peter Moon, left, and Sally Carroll, right, during an interview with the Dispatch Monday, April 15, 2019, at Mad Moon Cidery in Linden. [Fred Squillante/Dispatch]

The city of Columbus has so much crime they don’t try to mess with the low-level stuff," he said. "It’s about taking the bad guys off the street."

Though the Kroger's closing has dealt an economic and psychological blow to the area, it's also led to some business opportunities for some.

John Sung is opening a Saraga International grocery store there on June 1. Workers were continuing to stock shelves with items from around the world this past week. And he plans on hiring 100 to 120 people.

He said a lot of people want to rent space for businesses, including Nepali and Mexican restaurants, reflecting the changing demographics of the neighborhood.

"I'm really surprised,"  Sung said. "I think business is going to be good."