Impact Cleveland's revitalization work progressing

By LARRY C. BOWERS
Posted 10/13/17

Impact Cleveland Director Dustin Tommey had quite a positive impact at the Kiwanis Club luncheon Thursday, bringing club members up to date on accomplishments and improvements in the Blythe/Oldfield …

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Impact Cleveland's revitalization work progressing

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Impact Cleveland Director Dustin Tommey had quite a positive impact at the Kiwanis Club luncheon Thursday, bringing club members up to date on accomplishments and improvements in the Blythe/Oldfield community of South Cleveland.

“I’m humbled to get to share what we do,” Tommey said, informing the Kiwanians that Impact Cleveland has been a partner of United Way for the past four years. The organization and effort is the brainchild of United Way President and CEO Matt Ryerson.

“Impact Cleveland is a neighborhood revitalization initiative,” said Tommey in pointing out all the wonderful things that have been done in South Cleveland. 

The founding of the organization was delayed a little, as United Way became involved with Habitat of Cleveland in the recovery effort following the tragic tornadoes which swept through the community just after the century’s first decade.

“We have some audacious goals,” Tommey said of attempts to improve housing and living conditions in the Blythe/Oldfield community. He said the start-up was hindered slightly, but that has been overcome.

Someone had circled information that the city, or other groups, wanted to remove all of the homes in the old community. “We faced quite a bit of distrust when we first started,” Tommey said.

The organization’s director quickly put Kiwanis Club members on the straight and narrow, as to the determination of Impact Cleveland’s goals. “We want to move the needle for improvements in health care, income, and success,” he said. He added that they want to offset the poverty trend of the neighborhood.

“We want to use a rifle approach, rather than the shotgun effect,” he continued. “We want to use a faith-based philosophy, and a holistic approach for improvements in the community. We address needs in a variety of ways.”

Tommey said Impact Cleveland is implementing, or just finished implementing, grants for improvements in the neighborhood.

The first big project was the acquisition of a Tennessee Valley Authority grant, with assistance from Cleveland Utilities. In the grant application, Impact Cleveland was conservative in its nature for extreme-energy home makeovers, but TVA officials insisted the new Cleveland organization ask for more. They had requested $1.5 million for revitalization of 100 homes, but were asked to apply for $3.7 million for 300 homes.

“It was a very unusual grant process,” said Tommey.

They eventually received almost $5 million and have upgraded 413 homes in the Blythe/Oldfield neighborhood. After implementing 75 percent of the original grant, Impact Cleveland was granted as additional $1 million for 100 additional homes.

Tommey is proud of the fact the 400-plus homes all have utility bills which are at least 25 percent less than they once were.

The agency’s director pointed out the South Cleveland neighborhood was first constructed in the 1920, concentrating around the old Blythe Elementary School. “The community has declined since that time, with the city growing more to the north,” said Tommey. He said this is a classic example of how city’s grow.

He said the effort to revitalize old neighborhoods is a growing trend, nationwide.

“We began with an intense listing of the neighborhood, although we had that distrust at the start,” said Tommey. “We listened for one full year, then we began to prioritize.”

In the prioritization, Impact Cleveland came up with five impact areas. They include physical revitalization, social revitalization, economic development, neighborhood safety, and leadership development. 

Tommey said the residents, although leery at first, have come on board, which emphasizes the leadership effort.

“They have joined us in wanting to see these impact areas changed,” Tommey said. “They want a decent and safe place to live.”

Tommey was cut short somewhat by time, and unable to go into detail on some other, recent accomplishments of the organization. Impact Cleveland has received an additional $500,000 grant from Neighborhood Works America, and $75,000 from the LynnHurst Foundation in Chattanooga.

The $500,000 is being used to purchase six homes for revitalization, and each of these properties touch on the new Blythe/Oldfield Park which has been constructed in partnership with the City of Cleveland.

The new park will be dedicated from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, and will feature a state-of-the-art zip line and upscale basketball court.

“More people live in this neighborhood, density wise, than other quadrants of the city, but they did not have a city park,” said Tommey.

The grants are also providing six $30,000 donations for the upgrades of business facades in the neighborhood.

Tommey said it is with a sense of pride that the LynnHurst Foundation is willing to partner with Impact Cleveland in the revitalization of the South Cleveland area, which lies just south of the vacated Whirlpool property. This 90-acre tract is expected to be revitalized and redeveloped in the near future in a partnership between Whirlpool, the city, Impact Cleveland and others.

In one final announcement, Tommey said Impact Cleveland will have its own identity in the near future. It will receive its 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation in January.

The organization will still work closely with United Way, and should be able to assist the City of Cleveland in its revitalization/redevelopment opportunities in the downtown area.   


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