What was the site of the nation’s first ever public housing complex is getting a second life. As residents begin moving into new housing at the old Poindexter Village, though, many see the complex as a site of lost history.
Construction crews stay busy building new town homes in the 200 block of Champion Avenue, on Columbus' near east side. Soon, the buildings will become Legacy Pointe at Poindexter.
The construction is all part of the renovation happening at the 16-acre site of the old Poindexter Village public housing complex. Former resident Reita Smith doesn’t approve of the plans, but she says she can’t stay away.
“It breaks my heart to go through there, number one," Smith says. "But I do go past it, on Mt. Vernon Avenue or Long Street. But you still have memories of what was. And I’m not impressed with what’s there now."
Poindexter stood for more than 60 years before it was demolished a few years ago. People who remember the old community have mixed feelings about rebuilding one that will be as strong. Others, meanwhile, say the future can be brighter.
Smith, her husband and three young children lived at Poindexter Village in the 1950’s.
“There was a commonality of everybody worked together, everybody was an extended family," she says. "And the village always represented that value that it was a community and you were held to high values and standards."
As the complex aged, however, drug dealing and other crime and violence problems began to overwhelm the neighborhood.
Smith chairs the Poindexter Foundation, an organization that has worked closely with the Ohio History Connection to preserve the Poindexter story.
Through a partnership with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, officials saved two of the original brick buildings from demolition at Mt. Vernon and Champion. It will be the 59th historical site in Ohio.
During Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther’s recent State of the City speech, he talked about the city’s commitment to maintain those buildings.
“We will work with the Ohio History Connection to create a central Ohio African American History Museum at this site, and the city will lead the way with a significant financial contribution," Ginther said.
While the city’s commitment is welcome, Yolanda Robinson, a former member of the Poindexter Foundation Board, still questions why the city could not have saved and renovated all of the buildings.
“The bricks, we have some of the bricks. You can’t get bricks like that anymore," Robinson says. "We had to preserve those buildings, you know, and preserve the legacy of people that lived in there and the legacy of neighborhood pride."
The original Poindexter Village included 414 apartments in 35 buildings. The new project will soon contain 430 townhomes and apartments, including a just-completed senior high-rise building.
Construction is scheduled to wrap up in two years.
Bob Bitzenhofer with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority shows off one of the larger townhomes.
“We’re developing a different kind of community," Bitzenhofer says. "So the old style of public housing was put all affordable housing in one place, so this is going to be more mixed-income. So there will be a chance for market-rate folks, you know folks getting a voucher through us, will all kind of be living here together."
Rents at Poindexter will vary. Some residents will pay 30 percent of their income, while others will pay market rates. Bitzenhofer says that means some former residents will be able to move back.
Robinson remembers visiting friends who lived at Poindexter Village. She wrote a children’s book about the neighborhood called “There is Magic in the Blackberry Patch."
Robinson says the new townhomes and apartments can’t replace her memories.
“It’s a nice building. It’s a shell. It hasn’t had a chance to have a history," Robinson says. "When we look at Poindexter Village, it’s a history. We wanted to save the history."
Former resident Reita Smith says she wants Columbus children to learn that history about the near east side.
“Our children don’t have a sense of their roots," Smith says. "They don’t have a sense of the businesses that were on Mt. Vernon Avenue and Long Street and how vibrant and successful they were."
Not many businesses remain in the area. The nearest full-service grocery store is blocks away.
Bitzenhofer, though, says he expects more positive changes as the construction finishes.
“We’re trying to keep the sense of community and celebrate the history of the near east side, but also kind of help the east side grow," he says.