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Residents taking back neighborhood

BRADENTON — Like many older urban neighborhoods, Mike Grimley said his has gone through several changes over the past several years.

Five or six years ago, many of the mostly single-family homes in a 12-block area south of Ninth Avenue West and west of 14th Street West were rentals with very transient residents.

Crack houses dotted the community and most of the long-time residents kept to themselves within the walls of their homes.

But there’s been a revival of pride in community, and the neighborhood has seen positive changes.

To keep the momentum going, Grimley and several of his neighbors have organized a “get to know your neighbors” block party at 5 p.m. today at his home on the corner of 10th Avenue West and 17th Street.

“At first it was hard to meet people,” said the affable Grimley, who moved into his home in 2005. “This was an edgy area.”

But he said he moved to Bradenton from a neighborhood in Annapolis, Md., where he grew up and wanted to develop that close-knit community here.

Grimley approached several of his neighbors with the block party idea, including Yolanda and Jesus Mena, who have lived in the neighborhood for 18 years.

They raised their family in the neighborhood and have seen the changes.

“It’s been coming back over the last five, six years,” Yolanda Mena said.

“A lot of people feel safe now, and you see them walking, jogging or riding bikes.”

It was this changing environment that influenced Achim and Christiane Triebel enough to purchase their home on 10th Avenue West just more than a year ago.

“We were not worried about the neighborhood, although my friends were,” said Achim Triebel, a Realtor. “I looked around and there were enough people out and about and I could see the changes.”

The neighborhood straddles several subdivisions, including Fairview Park, Fowler, and Hills Grove, which were platted in the 1920s.

Most of the homes were built in the 1940s and 1950s, with some in the 1960s replacing the original houses.

Just as in many older neighborhoods, when the original owners grew old and died or moved away, their adult children would sell the homes, Yolanda Mena said.

Investors purchased the homes for rental units and that was when the neighborhood began to go downhill, she said.

“There was a crack house next door when I moved in,” Grimley said. “I called law enforcement to get rid of it.”

Grimley, the Menas the Triebels and several other neighbors kept up the pressure to get rid of the bad elements.

“We started taking back our neighborhood,” he said. “We lose if we let them win.

“This is our investment,” Grimley said.

Many of the newcomers are moving into the neighborhood because of its proximity to Ballard Elementary School at 18th Street West and Ninth Avenue.

“We see lots of kids walking to school,” Achim Triebel said.

Several of the Menas’ grandchildren attend Ballard, Yolanda Mena said.

“They stay at my house after school until their parents pick them up,” she said.

Also, there are several churches within walking distance, Triebel said.

“We have a little of everything,” Grimley said.