Timothy Baker loves bikes, and on weekends he likes working on them at Franklinton Cycleworks. The co-op helps residents get their hands on reliable transportation and provides the tools and space they need to keep their wheels spinning. A few weeks ago, Baker had his friend’s yellow 10-speed up on a stand.
“Had to adjust everything on it, but it’s a nice bike,” Baker explains with his eyes screwed up, cranking a wrench. “Right now, trying to get this derailleur to work.”
As money flows into Franklinton, the eastern side of the neighborhood is blossoming with new restaurants, plenty of breweries and upscale housing—becoming a kind of cross-river addendum to Downtown Columbus.
Franklinton Cycleworks, though, sits on the west side, separated by US-315 from the influx of construction and investment along the river. Treating the two sides of Franklinton as distinct neighborhoods is a relatively new phenomenon, one that doesn’t always sit well with longtime residents, who worry about keeping up.
“I wonder if it’s going to be a big old empty field sometimes,” Baker says, a few days later.
He’s killing time at a library before his evening shift as a janitor in a downtown high rise.
“It just looks so bad over here,” Baker says. “Me and a good friend talked about last night that we grew up in this neighborhood, how it’s changing and how the east side looks like it’s getting better and the west side is getting worse. I mean, there’s just so many changes.”
Things are good for him right now, Baker says. But a few years ago, he went through a divorce and moved in with his sister. They got behind on maintenance and the mortgage and ended up losing the house.
“We had a lot of plumbing problems in the house, the garage roof was caving in,” Baker explains. “I mean, it really needed a lot of work. My sister was there, she couldn’t keep up with the maintenance, and then child support hit me. I couldn’t help out my sister at all. It bothered me really bad.”
Meanwhile, the sharp growth east of the highway is inflating home prices throughout the neighborhood. When residents do fall behind, like Baker, it can be hard to catch up.
Neighborhood organizations – which try to help out with things like affordable housing – feel the pinch, too.
“Certainly, acquisition prices have become incredibly challenging even for organizations like ours, who go out and often try to find these houses in various states of disrepair,” says Jack Storey of the Franklinton Urban Empowerment Lab. “Those prices have in some instances quadrupled in the last two, three years. That’s a big deal.”
Storey says there has always been a distinction between Franklinton’s east and west sides, but the border is fuzzy rather than a bright line. Historically, the area close to the river was taken up with manufacturing and industrial developments, while areas further from the water and potential flooding was primarily used for housing.
With the installation of new a floodwall and the growth of downtown Columbus, Storey says it was inevitable that the old warehouses and vacant lots across the river would become attractive investments. But he believes nearby residents need a louder voice in development.
“They need a voice. They deserve to have that voice,” Storey says. “I don’t think anyone maliciously went out of their way to make sure that they didn’t, I just don’t think anyone went out of their way to make sure that they did.”
Community development organizations like the Franklinton Urban Empowerment Lab focus on underserved residents. The rising prices have also caught the attention of the Franklinton Board of Trade, a kind of neighborhood chamber of commerce.
Executive director Trent Smith is an unapologetic booster of growth in the area. Among other improvements, he points to a planned west side call center that could provide hundreds of jobs.
But Smith admits he’s uneasy with what he calls “prospectors”—those buying up property and flipping it to make a quick buck or sitting on developable plots and demanding exorbitant prices.
“I get capitalism,” he says, “I think it works when it’s done correctly. But sometimes when you see those really steep spikes in prices, that just kind of—that’s harmful.”
And it raises the pressure for residents like Baker. Even though he’s managed to mostly stable himself, when we spoke he was more than a month behind on rent and leaning on friends to keep himself in place.
Rents continue to climb with home values – bad news for many in Franklinton who are already stretched thin.
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