Driving down Route 229 from Gambier into Mount Vernon is like taking a tour of classic American architecture. Rather than cookie-cutter suburban homes, Gambier Road is lined with several old homes in the Victorian, Georgian and Tudor styles. Running south of Gambier Road down to the Kokosing River lies a neighborhood with brick-lined streets and more classic homes. As Lucas Kreuzer ’20 suggested in a presentation to members of the Knox County Land Bank, this neighborhood, full of “good bones,” may also hold the key to Mount Vernon’s future.
Kreuzer, an intern for the Land Bank, has spent the past several months using data analysis and geographic information systems to figure out how to revitalize the neighborhood, which the Land Bank refers to as the Roundhouse District.
The Land Bank is an entity housed within the Area Development Foundation (ADF) of Knox County. It specializes in taking vacant homes, purchasing them before they can be demolished, and selling them to developers willing to invest in renovating them, so that they can eventually come back into the hands of a responsible landlord or homeowner.
Kreuzer, a political science and German double-major, found out about the Land Bank over the summer when he researched industry changes in Mount Vernon. When he saw they were offering an internship, he jumped at the chance, joining ADF Vice President Jeff Gottke on the Roundhouse District project.
While the Land Bank works throughout the county renovating houses, the idea behind the Roundhouse District project was that the Land Bank could develop a model for more widespread, visible renovation.
The Roundhouse District derives its name from its history as a railroad hub, from a time when it was the Pennsylvania Railroad, not the Kokosing Gap Trail, that ran through the neighborhood. The neighborhood was home to a large roundhouse, or locomotive maintenance shed. Many of the homes populating the neighborhood were built in the early 20th century. While these homes are showing signs of age, Kreuzer thinks that, when renovated, they could be attractive for young families due to the neighborhood’s close proximity to the Gap Trial, parks and downtown Mount Vernon.
For Kreuzer, a big part of the project was understanding the culture of the neighborhood so that renovation would not alter the neighborhood’s identity.
“When new houses are built or existing ones are renovated, that they’re sort of done in a manner that’s consistent with the look and feel of the neighborhood,” he said. “That respects the neighborhood, gives it identity. We don’t want some big McMansion type thing being dropped in the middle [of the neighborhood].”
Kreuzer said that renovating the Roundhouse District holds numerous benefits for Mount Vernon. Ohio faces a state-wide labor shortage, meaning that manufacturing jobs in Mount Vernon, jobs with wages starting at $15 an hour with benefits, are harder to fill. In addition, a portion of Mount Vernon’s labor force are Columbus residents who pay their employment taxes in Columbus rather than contributing to Mount Vernon’s tax base.
Kreuzer believes that expanding opportunities for young families to stay and settle down in Mount Vernon is not only good for the city’s economy but has deeper benefits for the community as well.
“Once these people move here and stay here, not only do they contribute to the social fabric of the neighborhood, where they send their kids to local schools—they serve on the school board, they get involved with United Way,” Kreuzer said, describing what he called a reinforcing feedback loop.
At present, the Land Bank’s next goal is to gather input from the district’s current residents and stakeholders.