Illustration by Lars Leetaru
When I moved to Cincinnati 30-plus years ago, I worked in a downtown office building at Third and Main. We looked across the highway gulch to Riverfront Stadium, where the Reds and the Bengals were the city’s center of attention. Pete Rose was back in town and would break the all–time hits record, and the Bengals were building toward a Super Bowl run.
I moved here from a city that didn’t have professional sports teams, so as a young man I was happy to build my social life around winning teams and huge home crowds. Truth is, there wasn’t much else for us to do downtown after work. We didn’t shop in the department stores or eat in the fancy restaurants like Pigall’s and Maisonette; when they rolled up the sidewalks at 5 p.m., we headed to Mt. Adams or, on game days, to Flanagan’s Landing.
About the only place downtown where I knew people lived was One Lytle Place, full of what I imagined were swinging bachelor and bachelorette pads rising high above the river. Word was that plenty of people lived in Over-the-Rhine, but in those days if you didn’t know anyone there or weren’t seeing a show at Music Hall—I didn’t, and I wasn’t—you never crossed Central Parkway.
My mid-1980s self likely wouldn’t recognize downtown today, nor would anyone who moved away from Cincinnati 20 or even 10 years ago. The surge in new and renovated residential buildings, chronicled in our “Downtown Living Now” cover story, has been a long time coming, fueled by demographic shifts that gradually made it more appealing to young professionals and older empty-nesters alike. And finally attracted the kind of everyday amenities—breakfast spots, late night bars, full-service grocery store—that downtown dwellers could walk, bike, scooter, or streetcar to.
Not that long ago, it would have been unthinkable for real estate developers to rehab a historic office building, tear down a multi-level garage, or dig up a surface parking lot to create hundreds of new apartments and condos. It’s a new downtown for a new Cincinnati.