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As funds for Lincoln Heights' 'Community Makeover' get bigger, so do village manager's plans

A Community Makeover in the Village of Lincoln Heights this year is the latest for the Reds Community Fund and a handful of other major partners. Lincoln Heights officials began making over the village long before this announcement.

Increasing the 'level of ambition'

Near the center of Lincoln Heights is Memorial Field. You can barely make out the words on a faded blue sign that says, "Home of the Tigers." Walking up the steep drive, you'll see a football field, baseball diamond, playground, and a couple of aluminum bleachers.

There's a concession stand about the size of a large closet; the scoreboard and stadium lights don't work.

Village Manager Joyce Powdrill says it needs a lot of work, but the potential is here.

"This is a lot of space," Powdrill said. "A lot of opportunity to do a lot of things here. Be that center of place of activity, whether that's football, baseball, soccer. And I'm encouraging the community as a whole to find ways to build activity."

This is the 13th year for the Community Makeover, and projects usually center on an athletic complex like this.

Executive Director of the Reds Community Fund Charley Frank says the Memorial Field renovation will start with some accessibility upgrades.

"The second piece of it is a vision that they've had for just a more active space: walking trails, an upgraded playground," Frank said. "There's a hillside there adjacent to the elementary school that we're really looking to create something fun and unique."

The project includes P&G, The Cincinnati Zoo, Children's Hospital, GE, OneSource Center, Cincinnati ToolBank, the Duke Energy Foundation, and SonLight Power. The Community Makeover has gotten bigger each year for over a decade, and Powdrill has big plans for Lincoln Heights.

Hamilton County has already pledged about $360,000 for the project. A new concession stand with bathrooms is the most expensive piece; the village has applied for a state grant that would cover the cost. And that's just some of the lobbying Powdrill has done to raise money for the effort.

Frank says that's a big head start that they don't usually have.

"We're going to be able to take a really good idea at Memorial Field and make it great, and make it great a lot sooner, and bring more attention to it, and just increase the level of ambition," Frank said.

Powdrill has big plans to make Memorial Field the centerpiece of a new village hub. One of the goals is to attract more residents and businesses to grow the tax base. But many of the other projects in this Community Makeover are focused on current residents.

'What is really going to help residents?'

"So this is currently food pantry storage, and as you can see it is fully packed," said Eric Walker, executive director of Lincoln Heights Outreach, Inc. (LHOI).

The LHOI food pantry serves about 200 families every Thursday.

"We are really excited because with this makeover, we're able to add shelving out into the current food pantry actual space," Walker said. "And then to do some upgrades here within our storage area as well."

The renovation will add a self-service option for the food pantry, plus a new workforce development room, fitting rooms for the clothing center, a community garden and spruce up the senior center.

Walker says it's difficult for nonprofits to get funding for physical renovations on their own.

"So when approached with the opportunity to be a part of this project, we were really excited, and really took it upon ourselves to really sit down and see what is our top priorities? And what is really going to help the residents that we end up serving?"

A few other community staples are part of the makeover: Lincoln Heights Elementary, St. Monica's Center, the health care center, Serenity Park and the Municipal Building.

Charley Frank says the goal is transformational change, but he's quick to point out it's the village's vision, not the Reds Community Fund's.

"I hope that what this project reinforces for Lincoln Heights is that they're already on the right track; they've already got great people and great leaders," Frank said. "And that there's a community, a business community, in Greater Cincinnati that cares about them and the residents and their future."

The residents are as important as any of the corporate or nonprofit partners, Powdrill says, adding there's been a history of marginalizing the community. The organizers made sure residents found out before anyone else, by knocking on every door in the village.

"It would be a miss if we didn't do those grassroot things to touch the community and re-engage them, to encourage them to get involved in their community," Powdrill said.

The Community Makeover unofficially kicks off with a clean-up day in early June.

Learn more about Lincoln Heights' revitalization plan in a story airing on WVXU on Thursday.