On most days, if the weather holds, Marvin Butts can be seen walking the streets of Pendleton. At 6-foot-10 and often topped by a cowboy hat, the owner of the nearby Mr. Bubbles Detailing shop is easy to spot. The route allows him to track the numerous redevelopment projects that have made their way to Pendleton’s tiny eastern corner of Over-the-Rhine in recent years, including 3CDC’s soon-to-open, $31.9 million renovation of Ziegler Park. It’s a significant benchmark in what has been quite the makeover—and culture change—for a neighborhood that, at the time of the 2010 Census, counted a population of 900 that was nearly 80 percent minority with a median household income of $13,397.
“For me, the park is a plus for the community and the neighborhood if it’s not done with restrictions, if it’s not just a ‘white park,’” says Butts. His is a concern among many longtime and minority residents who have felt the impact of gentrification, just as 3CDC, chief purveyor of said change, assumes management of their neighborhood park. “As long as it’s still open for the public, I’m all for it,” adds Butts. “But with me, a lot of stuff you gotta wait and see.”
3CDC first kicked the abandoned tires on Ziegler Park in 2012 when the Kantor family came looking to invest in a recreation-focused civic project to honor their late father, Milton. The park—named after David Ziegler, Cincinnati’s first mayor—had long fallen under the purview of the Cincinnati City Park Board and been managed by the Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC), but was in serious need of renovation. “The thought was that this is something that’s good for the community,” says Joe Rudemiller, 3CDC’s senior communications manager. “If it’s feasible, let’s go ahead and do it.”
There were a few kinks. Ziegler is a distinctive project for 3CDC compared to the usual commercial and mixed-use buildings, or even the heavily programmed, central gathering spot of Washington Park. In addition to the updated basketball courts and new playground, spray ground, and game area, Ziegler features a brand new swimming pool (a first for 3CDC), and a Cutter Playground green space that’s roughly twice as large as the Washington Park lawn—with a 400-space garage built underneath. Intended to be a more passive, neighborhood-focused park, there isn’t the standard abundance of revenue streams, which made funding a challenge. “For a public park, it’s hard for an investor to see how they’re going to get their money back,” says Rudemiller.
Of the $31.9 million for Ziegler Park, 3CDC secured $10 million from a city bond and another $10.6 million from the federal New Markets Tax Credits program. The rest comes from 3CDC equity funds, a $4 million state loan, and private fund-raising.
Benevolence comes at a cost too, particularly when trust is lacking. 3CDC has held roughly 40 community meetings on Ziegler, including a number of public input sessions dating back to February 2014. The organization says the feedback has been invaluable to the planning process, though it also cultivated plenty of skepticism and pointed questions from residents frustrated by a lack of definite answers and steady stream of “we’ll look into that.” Much of this stems from the perception and reputation of 3CDC, especially among those who have seen gentrification force friends and neighbors out of OTR, or who feel the programming and changes at Washington Park made it less accessible to lower income and minority families. There’s been ample eyebrow raising at the decision to use a third-party company to manage the pool (as opposed to the community-oriented CRC), and the fact that a private entity will be managing a public park.
“3CDC’s process has been, to me, mediocre at best,” says Jae Washington, who has been on the board of the OTR Community Council and Chamber of Commerce. “The language they use with business partners through the Chamber is far different than what you’ll hear at a community meeting. There’s a clear perception of who they value.”
3CDC maintains that everyone is on the same page: It has no intention of turning Ziegler into a destination space à la Washington Park or pricing out residents. From its standpoint, the project is as much a goodwill mission as anything. “We just want it to be a place where people can congregate, and that includes everybody in the neighborhood,” says Rudemiller.
It’s not purely magnanimous—it notably pushes 3CDC’s influence eastward in a substantial way. But assuming control of Cutter Playground, which was not part of the original plans, preserves a much-needed green space for the community; and though income from the garage will help offset debt, between the initial loans and regular operating costs, 3CDC is still likely to lose money on Ziegler from an overall revenue standpoint (which is the case at Fountain Square and Washington Park, as well).
Talk, however, remains cheap, intentions be damned. “I think that’s unfortunate. I can say that we are being genuine and do appreciate the feedback,” says Rudemiller. “I don’t know that there’s really much else we can do to dispel that myth other than once things are in place, people will realize this is what they asked for.”
Wait and see.