Exploration, conversation for new plan

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 06:57 PM

There is no plan yet for how to develop a recreational, educational, entertainment and family center on Zene Street, but a crowd of Flint Hill neighbors did brainstorm Tuesday night on what could be done.

The “listening post” meeting for Henderson’s Ward 3 at Shiloh Baptist Church included some frank exchanges on neighborhood woes and limitations, yet it was able to also focus on specific ideas for moving forward.

Ward 3 council members Garry Daeke and Brenda Peace-Jenkins guided discussion to a list of priorities that Cassandra Sparrow, a consultant with the charitable development group Religious, Educational-and-charitable, Development-projects, Inc., said would help her organization guide a planning process.

Attendants filled out questionnaires on priorities and gave them to Sparrow. RED is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“We have a team, some of whom were here tonight,” Sparrow said, “looking at what Henderson’s downtown development commission already has, and looking at what additional financing options there are.”

According to Sparrow, RED’s role would be to spearhead efforts to link community concerns and ideas together with funding sources such as additional grant programs, then market a plan to potential REEF tenants.

“We really want your feedback,” Sparrow said. “Our goal is not so much to tell as to hear from you.”

Downtown Development Commission chairman Jason Stewardson said the hope is still there for a REEF project to break ground and become “a catalyst for developing the whole Flint Hill area,” he said.

Concerns from Flint Hill residents included doubt that new commercial development would be supported in an area that is cash poor, with commercial enterprises in decline.

Other concerns included expanding job opportunities, training, educational and recreational choices in the Flint Hill area.

“A lot of Flint Hill kids have no place to go and play,” Anthony Harris said. “There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in these streets.”

Daeke picked up on Harris’ remarks, adding that efforts to develop the Zene Street warehouse should spill over to construction of park facilities on lots next door.

“There is open space next to the warehouse,” Daeke said. “I think we need to plan a little bigger than the building, looking at the whole block.”

There were mixed reviews for the meeting results at the end. Sparrow, Daeke and Peace-Jenkins, along with Mayor Pete O’Geary and several additional city leaders helping with the discussion process, expressed thanks for the input from residents.

Not all participants in the meeting were positive about results. One man kept interrupting early on in the meeting and had to be escorted out, while he was saying that there was talk but no walk on jobs and job placement that he needed.

Deryl von Williams, who owns property in the Flint Hill neighborhood, said that the man was right, the crying need is for jobs, job training and job placement.

“He was there pointing out that this all has been said before, and he really was asking about what could be done for his pain,” Williams said. “I found it disappointing also that in a room full of ministers, not one of them could go out to him and say my child of God, what can I do to help you?”

Williams, along with Councilwoman Sara Coffey, called for specific job training and placement programs for ex-felons. Coffey said the neighborhood needed a support program for those leaving the prison system.

Kenneth Gooch said he also agreed with what the expelled man tried to talk about, but was unable to because of his disruptive demeanor.

“I wish I could have had a chance to articulate what he was trying to say,” Gooch said. “He had a very valid point.”

Williams said the concept of gathering a random group of residents for answers was not a sign of good leadership by those who should know the need and put together a plan.

“If you have to come in and ask what should be put in there, then maybe you’re not the one qualified to do the project,” Williams said. “You can’t do a community center if you don’t know the people.”

Plans to develop the old Zene Street tobacco warehouse crumbled in 2012 as funding options tightened to just one Golden LEAF Foundation grant still active.

According to Stewardson, the Golden LEAF grant on the books for REEF is exactly $699,900 that could be spent per qualifications that a development plan would meet.

Administrative and promotional expenses for marketing REEF in recent years utilized a smaller $25,000 grant often coupled with the Golden LEAF grant.

REEF lost a $300,000 Main Street Solutions 2010 grant when it timed out in the fall. The grant required new jobs to be on the books within its award timeframe.

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.