Madison neighbors say 'community house' will fix woes

Neighbors ask city leaders for $250,000 to buy, renovate vacant duplex

Published On: Sep 19 2012 10:16:11 PM CDT   Updated On: Sep 19 2012 10:22:26 PM CDT
MADISON, Wis. -

Neighbors on a troubled block in southwest Madison, tiring of the unemployment and crime, are asking city leaders to spend money on a gathering place in their community.

Theresa Terrace, a short street north of Raymond Road lined by several deteriorating duplexes, has been the scene of gunfire and discontent in recent years, neighbors said.

The closest community center is more than a mile away in the Meadowood neighborhood, which got the facility as that neighborhood also dealt with crime.

The gathering place the Theresa neighbors are targeting is a vacant duplex, which they want city leaders to spend $250,000 to buy and renovate over the next year.

"I want to bring about a change. I want to make sure the children here graduate. I want to bring the community together," said Valerie Vance, one of the residents leading the push.

The duplex recently was sold to a private buyer for about $100,000, Vance said. The owner is willing to sell it to the city as a future community center, she said.

There is enough money in next year's city capital budget for two centers on the southwest side, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said. But members of the Madison Common Council will need to decide where to spend the money, the mayor said.

"It's certainly part of our plan to invest in the area and turn it around," Soglin said. "History tells us it takes a couple years to reverse trends that have been going on for a decade or longer."

LaQuisha Bender pointed to children playing in the street Wednesday on Theresa Terrace, saying that she didn't want those children to end up using guns someday.

Bender's son, Karamee Collins, Jr., was killed in a 2009 shooting in the Meadowood neighborhood. She moved to Theresa Terrace to escape the memories, but now supports the community center because she sees the same problems in her new neighborhood.

"I'm talking from my heart. If we can save one kid, it would not be in vain," she said through tears. "If we don't get these kids right now, in the future they're going to pick up a gun instead of a pencil."

Neighborhood leaders proved to themselves the idea was possible this summer when they put on their own weekly events where children could play and eat, said Gloria Meyer, the neighborhood president.

"We developed some momentum. The kids really liked what they did this summer, the neighborhood feels good about what they did and we don't want it to just die," Meyer said.

She said it was nearly a mile and a half to get to the Meadowood neighborhood center on the corner of Raymond Road and Whitney Way, too far for many children to travel.

That center went in around the time of Collins' death, as the Meadowood neighborhood continued to deal with crime.

While there are still problems, the center has helped, said Lisa Veldran, the neighborhood association president in that community.

"Even if there are incidents that go on, it's not like (the neighborhood) is going to keep deteriorating. So I think it's a stabilizing force," she said. "The one thing we heard from the businesses is that definitely helped 110 percent just giving kids a place to go."

The Theresa Terrace center, which would provide similar children's activities, unemployment resources and transportation help, would take at least nine months even after city approval, Meyer said.

"The kids are our future," she said. "If you don't do something with the children, what do we have for a future?"