The Future of Cincinnati: Is OTR Built Out?

Not by a long shot. But it’ll take vision and elbow grease to get it done, along with a mix of public-private property development and organic, grassroots rehabilitation.
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OTR projects north of Liberty Street.

Illustration by Chris Dent

CM_MAR15_FEATURE_FutureIconIn a moment of intense regional change, we thought it would be fun to ponder tomorrow from various angles. So for our April 2015 issue, we looked at the immediate future of Cincinnati.

Waiting 40 minutes for a huitlacoche taco at Bakersfield doesn’t make you an OTR authority. Because if you never venture above Liberty Street—as many won’t—then you still don’t have the full story about the neighborhood-in-transition. The northern district is officially hopping, and not just with Rhinegeist IPA. The city has chosen the northeast quadrant and its main amenity, Grant Playground, for beautification as part of the Neighborhood Enhancement Program. Private property owners like Hannah and Scott Hudson and Robbie and Dana Reider have built homes north of Liberty so that they can raise their families on the streets of OTR. And Kim Starbuck and Kevin Pape—who moonlights as the president of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation—are readying their extensive Crown Building renovation across the street from Findlay Market for a restaurant tenant. Who else is looking north? We gathered a who’s-who of stakeholders—developers, homeowners, and community advocates—to tell us what’s coming next (and what should be) in OTR’s long-running gentrification saga.

Ryan Messer, President, Over-the-Rhine Community Council
As OTRCC president and founder of Future Leaders OTR, Messer is a force of nature. He and his husband, Jimmy Musuraca, are planning to rehab six buildings north of Liberty Street.
“There’s this myth of momentum. People think, Oh, Over-the-Rhine is done. That’s not the reality for the majority of the residents. The Vine Street hill is the great connector of uptown and downtown. But when you cross Liberty and you go towards the hill, it’s not pretty. Our investment is going to be transformative. We’re pushing the northern boundary. And the opportunity is for equitable development of workforce housing—an inclusive, diverse neighborhood. I don’t want there to be tension with 3CDC, but if 20 years from now we look back and this is a homogeneous, upscale white neighborhood, then it is an absolute failure. They [3CDC] are operating like we live in their playground. We’re going to change the conversation and say that they are playing in our home.”

Mary Burke Rivers, Executive Director, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing
Current project: A seven-building scattered-site development that will inject affordable units into the priciest blocks.
“There’s all that market development coming up Race Street, so we thought it was important to have affordable housing there—throughout the community, not in pockets—to create an opportunity for people to get to know each other. Because they’re neighbors.”

Seth Maney, Executive Vice President, Urban Sites
A resident of OTR, he cofounded the OTR Matters blog (coining #ThisIsOTR), and is president of the Main Street OTR business district.
“There’s a shrinking part of the American population that likes lifestyle centers—the sanitized, all-in-one, total design concept. We [at Urban Sites] don’t want to create an auto-oriented Over-the-Rhine. We want the sidewalks to be alive with the people who live upstairs. We believe in serving the growing portion of the population that wants a walkable, urban, historic experience. Our goal is not about filling spaces; it’s about reactivating a lifestyle that you cannot replicate. There’s potential to recreate a village of 50,000 people. That’s what’s so exciting about Over-the-Rhine. There’s so much more to do. It will be one of the great neighborhoods in the country.”

Adam Gelter, Executive Vice President, Development, 3CDC
3CDC is now more than 10 years deep into its transformation of OTR, and the private property development group has taken on everything from building condos and parking garages to programming arts venues. Up next in 2015: A rehabbed park, a retail district, and putting more feet on the street.
“Zeigler Park is an under-utilized asset for Main Street. We’re hoping to do a renovation that has the same sort of positive impact that Washington Park did for the Vine and Elm Street area. But the intent of Zeigler is to provide that recreation component that isn’t in Washington Park. We want to build a nice pool and have basketball leagues for kids in the neighborhood. We’re also looking at doing more commercial office buildings. That’s an important component that’s been neglected. And we want to make sure we fill those first floors with retail. The bar and restaurant thing is great, but how sustainable is it? The retail there now is only able to subsist because so many people come down to the restaurants and they end up walking in. Long term, we can build a retail destination that’s local and unique. There still probably aren’t enough bodies for the neighborhood-serving businesses—a dry cleaner, a flower shop, a Laundromat. [But] we’re not that far away.”

Joe Hansbauer, CEO, Findlay Market
As the sands shift around it, Findlay Market has doubled down on its core value proposition: The connection it makes between vendors and neighbors.
“The neighborhood is changing. We’ve had frequent conversations about how to maintain diversity. North Market [in Columbus] is a perfect example of what we need to be cautious about. Columbus built a brand new, beautiful convention center two blocks away, and that generated a significant amount of foot traffic. But folks coming in from out of town, they’re not coming to buy ingredients; they’re coming to eat tacos and waffles. It’s important to us—from an altruistic perspective but also from a business perspective—that affordable housing is part of things. Those that are in workforce housing and affordable housing buy groceries and cook five nights a week. Those who are buying $400,000 condos? They eat at all the fantastic restaurants on Vine Street five nights a week. But that mix has to be there.”

Originally published in the April 2015 issue.

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