Some Aiken City officials say that Crosland Park is a diamond in the rough.
Crosland Park Revitalization project progress
• 36 homes purchased by the city• 12 currently for sale• 7 rented out• 7 sold• 9 homes to be renovated• 1 lot is being used as a Community Garden** Two houses in Crosland Park were removed that were in the vicinity of the proposed pathway improvements for the Safe Routes to School project located on Croft and Aldrich streets. The City purchased those homes with Northside Development Funds.
This Northside neighborhood has undergone some changes through a redevelopment program conducted by the City of Aiken with a goal to renovate up to 150 homes in an effort to improve Crosland Parks' image and the quality of life of its residents. Though progress has stalled, a new game plan is now in effect in hopes to continue moving that part of the community in the right direction.
“Crosland Park today is a lot better than it was – I can stand by that,” said current Crosland Park Neighborhood Association President Gary Yount who has lived there since 1996. “We just got a lot more work to do.”
The neighborhood, which has about 550 houses, was established in the 1950s to offer temporary housing to Savannah River Site employees. Over time, the neighborhood became crime-ridden and most of the homes were rented rather than owned.
The City wanted another success story similar to Toole Hill and Asheton Oaks, two other Northside neighborhoods that once had bad reputations but were vastly improved with the construction of new homes.
In 2009, City Council approved advancing $1.5 million from reserve funds to jump-start the Crosland Park project by purchasing and renovating the first 20 houses. Former City Manager Roger LeDuc said that if the program was successful, that money could continue to roll over, according to meeting minutes.
In 2010, LeDuc presented Council with a request of approval to reuse that $1.5 million as a rollover fund until the entire project is complete and after the last home is sold, the money would be paid back with interest to the City, the minutes read. Council unanimously approved this request.
The City also applied and received grants, as well as partnered with a host of different organizations including Aiken Corp. to pursue the endeavor.
The average purchase price for those houses was between $35,000 and $45,000 with about $40,000 in refurbishments to make the homes more energy efficient and modern.
A total of 36 homes have been purchased – seven are rented out and seven have been sold, according to City Manager Richard Pearce The momentum of the project began to slow, which some say is partly due to the economy, and now, the City has 12 renovated homes ready for move-in.
Assistant Engineering and Utilities Director George Grinton told Council members and staff during the Horizons Retreat in February that Community Development Block Grant funds are combined with an EPA grant to continue making improvements in Crosland Park, and about $196,000 of $300,000 was left to pay for the renovations of the additional nine homes in inventory.
The goal is to sell the 12 houses on the market to generate some revenue to continue the initiative, Grinton said.
So, the City revamped its plans in hopes to get those houses off the market in a faster pace.
The City is now working with Lester Harper from Harper Realty, Pat Cunning and Joe Murphy from Woodside-Aiken Realty, Gail Toole from Meybohm Realtors and Aiken Properties' Laura Thomas to market and sell those houses.
Neighborhood Services Project Coordinator Leslie Wilcher recently met with those Realtors and said all of them are pretty enthusiastic about the project.
“They are all from the area and they want to see the area thrive so every part of Aiken becomes a piece of the puzzle,” Wilcher said. “You have to keep up and make sure all the neighborhoods are thriving in order for the whole to be healthy.”
Wilcher said the Realtors will receive commission based on the sale of the home but their role will go a little beyond their typical duties due to the time spent meeting with the City and coming up with marketing plans.
“We're pleased to be able to work with the City to help move these properties,” said Cunning. “The City has done a really good job. These houses are totally renovated and will make very good homes.”
The renovated houses were initially priced in the $90,000 to $100,000 range which City Councilwomen Gail Diggs and Lessie Price both feel was a bit too much, especially since the refurbished homes were not in a confined area but scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Recently, the homes have been reduced to the $80,000 range. Price and Diggs said those houses may need to be priced even lower than that.
The two Councilwomen do agree that things have improved in the neighborhood, including a decreasing crime rate, and officials say Public Safety is responding mostly to nuisance calls these days.
Diggs lived in Crosland Park from 1980 to 1985, and said back then, there were mostly retired couples or young professionals residing there. She said over time, the face of the neighborhood changed as the crime rate increased. Some of the homes began deteriorating and a few aging structures can still be found with broken or boarded up windows. There was a sense of little to no hope for recovery among residents but Diggs feels that the future is promising.
“There's a measurable change in what it looked like two years ago,” Diggs said. “It's a safe community for folks to come and live. It's not where we want it to be yet but if we bring it to the forefront, we'll get there. We'd like a success story and we know it's not going to happen overnight.”
Some residents who live in Crosland Park are hopeful for the future, as well. Yount, who has been the president of the neighborhood association since 2008, said change also has to come from within. He's noticed that more Crosland Park residents are willing to observe their surroundings and alert Public Safety of any problems which has made a positive impact.
Yount said he does wish more residents would get involved in the neighborhood association, whose members have helped to establish a community garden and, most recently, organize a health fair. He said they try their best to alert residents of the meetings but typically, the same dozen or so people outside the board show up.
“How many people are we reaching? I don't know,” Yount said. “If more people became more involved, it would be better for everybody and we could accomplish more.”
Yount said getting those houses sold will also be beneficial to neighborhood.
“If they could move that along and get the houses sold and bring more people in here, I think that would move things along quicker,” Yount said.
Crosland Park resident and Neighborhood Association member Theresa Richardson said that despite the slow progress, many of her neighbors are feeling pretty optimistic.
“I've spoke to several of the residents and they are pleased to see the dilapidated homes being restored and refurbished,” Richardson said. “It increases their property value and they think it's a great thing – the reduction of rental property.”
Grinton also said during the Horizons Retreat that approximately 140 homes have been weatherized, the community house is being renovated, the Safe Routes to School Initiative is moving along and they are working with the S.C. Department of Transportation to coordinate the repaving of the roads as crews continue to make sewer line improvements in the neighborhood.
Wilcher, who was hired by the City early this year, feels positive about the future of Crosland Park.
“I think that Crosland Park has great potential,” she said. “It's a jewel in the rough and with everybody working together, Crosland Park could really be made to shine.”
STAFF PHOTO BY AMY BANTON One of 12 homes for sale in Crosland Park is pictured.×
Aiken Standard file photo “Crosland Connections” students Bryan Spann and Jay Richardson attend a science camp at USC Aiken, where among other activities, they learned to put together a small, working lamp.×
Staff photo by Amy Banton This sign marks the entrance of Crosland Park on the Northside of Aiken.×