Demolition of Poindexter Sends Community Shudders

Nov 10, 2014

With the exception of two historic buildings, the nation's first public housing development has been flattened. The demolition of Poindexter Village on Columbus' near east side began in earnest in October of 2012 when Mayor Michael Coleman stood in front of a vacant Poindexter Tower and vowed something better. “This is a monument to misery and we're going to improve the quality of life in this neighborhood, so help me God,” said Coleman.

Since Coleman made his vow, more than 200-million dollars has been pledged to redevelop Poindexter Village. On the sidewalk at East Long Street and North Champion Avenue, a pedestrian can easily hear emergency dispatch calls to the local fire station. It gives the feel of city bustle and activity. But stroll a block north on Champion and the scene changes. Quiet, vast acreage with no houses nor apartments whatsoever. It's not the scene of some natural disaster. No devastating fire nor tornado flattened this area. Yet, hundreds of former residents have been displaced. Public policy makers chose demolition after a failed attempt at rehabilitation. “There were over 400 units that were here when I came and the total amount of residents, including seniors, children, and adults were 731," says Bernita Gatewood. Gatewood heads the East Columbus Development Company. It advocates for former residents of Poindexter Village. Two of the 35 buildings were spared demolition to keep a connection to what for many years was a thriving African American neighborhood. Gatewood says more recently fear of crime and poverty plagued Poindexter. “There's a sadness and there's a gladness because there were a lot of crimes and the seniors were afraid to come out after 4 o'clock,” says Gatewood. With financial guidance from Gatewood's company, nearly all of the former Poindexter residents moved out of the zip code into either market rate apartments, newly purchased homes, or other public housing developments. “Out of the 731 we had almost 200 that were employed.” The emptying of Poindexter sent social and economic ripples through surrounding city blocks. Churches, parks, schools and businesses now struggle. David Rawahneh, owns and operates Five Brothers Market on Long Street across from the fire station . “I survive, I put more hours, less employees and I've been working me, and it's a family business, me and my son, 24-seven we work seven days a week and we're barely surviving, barely," says Rawahneh. Rawahneh adds that he's waiting for the newly planned public housing development to bring customers back to his market. Until then, he's cut inventory of family items like pampers and household cleaning products. He hopes his business survives until the neighborhood is re-populated. “Because this all I know. This is my life and that's all I started when I was young and I'm 60 some years old now and that's all I know. And to me this is my neighborhood, my kids have grown up here, my grandkids have grown up here and it's just like, this is where I belong," says Rawahneh. David Hughes at the Beatty Recreation Center sounds a similar sentiment. He says fewer children use the Rec Center since the demolition of Poindexter . “This was our bread and butter to be honest," says Hughes. Across the street from the Rec center, construction has begun on a 105 unit apartment building for low income elderly. 305 more units are planned in the future to replace the demolished buildings. Rawahneh says occasionally former customers return after they've heard of the demolition. “And a lot of people they come from out of state to see their old neighborhood and they'll be surprised and shocked Oh what happened. The demolishment was very quick and surprised everybody," says Rawahneh. Both Rawaneh and Gatewood say even though the buildings are gone, memories of Poindexter Village remain intact. “Many parties for the children were held here, different presentations recognizing youngsters who were coming out of high school going on to college, just many wonderful memories," says Gatewood. The repopulation of Poindexter could take up to seven years. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in June earmarked $30-million for reconstruction. The Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority says on its website about $225 million additional dollars have been committed from about 50 other sources.