Someone in Richmond believes in miracles. In fact, there are several.
They are the members of the Richmond Neighborhood Restoration, a Richmond non-profit that over the last five years has quietly built a resume of rescuing aging, sometimes blighted, properties and making them not only inhabitable but refurbished local treasures.
Their plan is simple in theory but much more difficult in execution. They acquire older, often historically significant, properties and then use volunteer help, their guile, donations and connections, plus their own expertise to restore the homes to a proud, livable state.
To start, they borrowed money and relied on donations and volunteer help to do their first project. Renovation began. Local businesses contributed or offered goods and services at cost. Volunteers hauled, scrubbed, swept and sweated to get properties ready for renovation. Then craftsmen went in and replaced roofs and HVAC, remodeled kitchens, finished floors and plastered and painted walls.
Then they sold the property and used the proceeds to move on to the next project.
Their stated goal is to stimulate interest in preserving and protecting older, historic homes and neighborhoods, to promote historic preservation, create a positive image of the city, encourage community involvement and promote economic development.
And, their plan, at least early on, is working. That’s the interesting part. They have completed three renovations, are in the midst of a fourth and have taken a bold step towards No. 5.
You can go to their Website to see the first three, all of which have been sold, and, if you look really close while driving by, you can see the work progressing on the fourth at 2009 E. Main St.
Achieving their goals will take years but at this juncture, progress is clearly being made.
“This is how it’s supposed to work,” said RNR Executive Director Eric Nicholson. “We have a good track record and interest in our projects continues to build.”
The recent award of a $25,000 grant from the Wayne County Foundation is another sign that their work is being recognized and gaining traction.
Chad Stegner is RNR president and David Jetmore is vice president. Other board members include Ginger Gray, Shaun Dingwerth, Gail Connerly and Jason Troutwine.
As a candidate for the District 3 seat on the Richmond Common Council, I’m thrilled that all five projects are homes in my district.
Still, it is their fifth project, the former Ester Hill house at 2237 E. Main St., that, to me, is the boldest, most important step. It is the aging, paint-peeling structure at East Main and 23rd streets that may provide the biggest test for the organization.
That home, built in 1905, has sat empty but filled with the detritus of collect and neglect for almost 20 years. It has been an eyesore since and, rightfully, earned the designation of the Palladium-Item’s Worst Blighted Property for two years running when the Palladium published its annual Fight The Blight series in the 1990s.
Here I will confess that I live a block from this home and was once part of a neighborhood group (in the ‘90s) that offered to paint the forlorn structure. One of our members even received a donation of the paint for the job.
But the homeowner said no to our offer and the property has been neglected ever since.
Now, however, RNR rescued the property from the city’s Blight Elimination list by acquiring it from the city with the help of the Wayne County Commissioners. Restoration work will begin as soon as the current project (2009 E. Main) is complete.
“We’re really excited to be doing this home,” Nicholson said. “We love the visibility and we have the opportunity to make it look really historic and beautiful. This is such an important location. It’s a gateway into the city, a billboard of the city.”
Truly, it is a gateway and the home, without intent, speaks volumes to visitors and naysayers about the condition of our city, as do many of the other sad, dilapidated homes that dot our neighborhoods. Its location and present condition are enough to make the Madonna of the Trail cry.
This then is a bigger stage and their efforts could have a dramatic impact on the neighborhood, all of East Main Street and the entire city.
So if RNR in the next two years can transform this property into a gorgeous, stately home, or one significantly better than what exists now, then RNR deserves our respect, trust and support.
And if that happens then RNR has worked another miracle and could make believers out of all of us.