Who can resist a dramatic “before & after” story? It’s certainly a favorite narrative for philanthropic developer, Theresa Gasper, owner and founder of Full Circle Development. And she has 10 Historic South Park home transformations to prove it—with two more on the way: 1207 Wayne Avenue and 634 Oak Street.
The “After” Effects
We recently had a chance to catch up with Theresa to talk about the “after” part of the story. The 2007 Rehabarama has had a far-reaching, positive effect on South Park’s home values. It also spurred hundreds of private renovations and improvements. From these awesome new heights, what does Theresa foresee for her “home” neighborhood?
“It’s hard not to be excited,” said Theresa. First of all, she’s thrilled that South Park is enjoying a surge of interest among young professionals seeking to rent if not own. “My website got 20 applicants in the last 4 weeks,” said Theresa, “and I’ve got no place to put them!” The South Park Tavern and Ghostlight Coffee seem to be always full, pulling more people to the neighborhood.
Interestingly, Theresa has noticed that the people who thrive in South Park are thirty-something professionals that move here from America’s big cities. They shun the new-built, sometimes shoddily constructed suburbs, in favor of older homes in a dense urban mix. “They tell me they get everything they need for the kind of life they want at one-third the cost,” said Theresa.
She firmly believes that “there’s not a damn thing wrong with being a big fish in a small pond,” and is known to expound on that theme. During her recent tropical vacation she regaled fellow travelers on the connectedness and can-do camaraderie of Dayton, Ohio. “I can’t seem to help myself,” laughed Theresa. “The recent University of Dayton grads give me so much hope. They’re service-oriented, highly social, they move to South Park and begin telling our story, building connections and bringing more people through.”
Such young people, she noticed, don’t dwell on the fact that GM and NCR left town. They are not asking anyone’s permission, they are just “doing it,” she asserts, referring to groups such as Blue Sky, Free Shakespeare, and Generation Dayton, whose multiple initiatives include downtown retail incubation.
The next great push for South Park renovation, according to Theresa, needs to be on the neighborhood perimeter, especially Wayne Avenue. “Wayne is our public face,” says Theresa, “and we need a facelift.” (author’s note: It would help if giant corporate retailers Dollar General and Family Dollar who are worth billions on Wall Street would get out and pick up the trash around their lots the way the indie-locals do. If you have any influence there, dear reader, please exert it!)
Full Circle will leave 1207 Wayne a “white box” waiting for an appropriate business client to start fresh and become part of the neighborhood renaissance.
The “Before” Story
If you’d like to keep reading, we’re happy to tell you Theresa’s “before” story. It proves that you can take the girl out of the neighborhood, but you can’t take the neighborhood out of the girl.
Five generations of her family have called South Park home (her children now reside here), mostly on Oak Street. To make a long story short, Theresa grew up and left her blue-collar neighborhood to make her fortune as a successful business woman and mom. She realized the American dream, complete with a beautiful home in a ritzy Beavercreek neighborhood.
But it didn’t quite result in a happy-ever-after. The lifestyle she was leading seemed stale and superficial–no match for her energies and not satisfying to the soul. It took a near tragedy to set her on the path she’s on today. Her brother, who lives in Shroyer Park, fell deathly ill. When Theresa’s family rushed in to take care of him, they realized his little old house was literally falling down around his ears.
While the brother recuperated successfully, his two sisters renovated his entire house. And Therea’s passion and a very meaningful personal calling was born. She’d found a fit for her deeply held belief that to whom much is given, much is expected.
A great one for doing research, she began networking with smart people (including Michael and Holly DiFlora of The Home Group) to find out how she could help Dayton by buying old houses with good bones and renovating them one at a time—good homes for good people. Her first assumption was that Dayton’s historic neighborhoods didn’t need her help. So she approached Lila Estes of Walnut Hills. “Lila told me I’d have a more powerful impact and a greater return on investment if I focused on South Park,” recalled Theresa. “Plus I couldn’t spark their neighborhood association with my idea.”
Historic South Park recognized its great good fortune in being of interest to Theresa, as well as the DiFloras. The enthusiasm and involvement of the neighborhood association was personified by then-president Karin Manovich, who took Theresa on an impressive tour of South Park homes. “Karin knew what each house needed and who was living there, and could tell me the story of each of the potential rehab homes,” marveled Theresa. “She knew if the place was rundown because of the owner’s illness, and she knew which homes were in the hands of slumlords.” And when Full Circle and The Home Group’s idea for a privately funded Rahabarama began to gel, they had access to hundreds of hours of volunteer time from highly motivated South Park neighbors.
Since the big 2007 transformation, it would seem that Theresa and Full Circle could rest a bit. She can afford to be patient as the surrounding area continues to improve, minimizing her losses. But she’s currently excited about renovating her late grandmother’s cottage, 634 Oak. “I’m here for the long term,” says Theresa. “It’s not a business to me, I’m emotionally attached. I fail to see the risk.” And as we all know, a weakness is often a great strength in disguise. Theresa’s failure to see risk, leaves only potential—and a great deal of it at that.