BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Kenton Street in Bowling Green was a historically Black neighborhood for generations, but as time went on, things began to change — leaving just a few families left.
One of the last houses left in the area belongs to Felicia Bland and her sister. The city announced last year that the condemned properties in the neighborhood could possibly be contracted for general business after a rezoming request was made by CSR BG Investments to turn the property into two contractor's garages and office space.
Fighting to keep the neighborhood alive, Bland said she had to do something.
“A lot of Black neighborhoods are disappearing and this was going to be one of them and as being one of the only residents that are still left here, we couldn’t let that happen,” Bland said.
The City Commission made a final 2-1 vote back in November 2019 to grant the rezoning request made by investment group. Bland worked with an attorney and the NAACP to file an appeal that same month.
Taking the case to court, things began to move slow once the virus hit the U.S, but in that time Bland met Desmond Bell and his wife who were eager to reconstruct the homes and rebuild the neighborhood.
“Where everyone else sees broken houses and doom and despair, Mr. Bell came in with a vision and a revitalization plan,” Bland said.
Bell is a Bowling Green native and was familiar with the neighborhood. Bland originally brought the project to his wife who convinced him that it would not only be great for the community, but would be a positive representation for their three sons.
Bell thought on the idea for a few days before he agreed to do the project and began contacting the owner of he property. Once he pitched his plan to them and Hancock Bank, they went in front of the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County who voted 10-0 in favor of his revitalization plan.
Eager to get started, Bell said he is happy to lead my example and leave a legacy for his children.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to take on this project, I have three boys and I wanted to lead by example. I wanted them to see an African-American stepping up and trying to save a community that needed to be saved and redevelop it,” Bell said.
Bell has been in the redeveloping business just a little over two years, and first got his start when he and his wife redeveloped a home near his mother-in-law, in Louisville. Seeing the profits and benefits of that one project, he decided to make it a full time gig.
He plans to gut, demolish and rebuild the Kenton Street neighborhood and at the very end, it will have nine brand new homes and an apartment complex.
“Well one house we’re going to knock down, this open land right here we’re going to build another home and we’re going to rehab the rest of the homes. and then the middle, where you see in the middle, we’re going to put apartment buildings,” Bell said.
Bland lives right across the street from the construction project and wakes up to the sound of hammers and nail guns. She said while others may hear sounds of construction and noise, she hears the sound of change and progress.
“The fact that we’re able to preserve this community and an African American couple came to preserve an African American community and made sure it remained a community and housing here, was just an answer to our prayers,” Bland said.
The homes are expected to be fully renovated and ready for renters by spring of 2021 and rent is expected to be set between $700 and $900.