Just five years ago, David Knox and two colleagues took a risk. They relocated their nascent organization to Over-the-Rhine, a Cincinnati neighborhood that had been the site of days of civil unrest in 2001 and had recently been named the most dangerous in the United States.
The first night a bullet came through the office window of their newly renovated three-story brick Italianate building. Their block’s most high-profile business turned out to be a drug ring run by a guy named Dmitri. Vine Street, where the offices of their technology accelerator, The Brandery, were located, was supposed to be on the cusp of a renaissance, courtesy of tens of millions of dollars in real estate investments by a nonprofit development corporation created and financed by a clutch of the city’s Fortune 500 companies. But in the summer of 2011, all there was were a couple of restaurants and a gift shop, some newly rebuilt sidewalks and saplings, and a lot of empty storefronts and boarded-up buildings. “You could see the light coming, but it wasn’t at all clear that it wouldn’t all fall back,” Knox recalls. For the first two years “it was like, ‘Ehhhh, we’ll see how this goes.’”
Today central Vine Street, indeed much of Over-the-Rhine, is unrecognizable.
There are two-hour lines for lunch outside organic fried chicken and gourmet hot dog restaurants and condominiums going for $500,000. Office rents rival those in the high-rises of the Central Business District, which abuts Over-the-Rhine to the south. Two blocks to the west, people flock to Washington Park and its $47 million in new amenities, including water jets, performance stage and dog park. To the north, craft breweries have reopened in long abandoned brewing complexes. “If you’re from out of town, this is where you go,” says Allen Woods, co-founder of an organization aiming to help local residents share in the benefits. “If you’re from there, this is the neighborhood to be in.”
It’s a transformation that’s happened in a blink of an eye, turning a neighborhood that in 2009 topped Compton in Los Angeles for the “most dangerous” title into something that looks and feels like Greenwich Village. And it didn’t happen by accident. Virtually everything that’s occurred in Over-the-Rhine—from the placement of the trees in the park to the curation of ground floor businesses—has been meticulously planned and engineered by a single, corporate-funded and decidedly non-governmental entity.
Freed from ordinary political constraints and focused on its task of reversing central Cincinnati’s slide, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.—better known as 3CDC—has invested or leveraged more than half a billion dollars into Over-the-Rhine, buying and rescuing 131 historic buildings and building 48 new ones, while maintaining subsidized housing, rehabilitating parks and driving out criminals with cameras, better lighting, liquor store closings and the development of vacant lots. In the process, it has earned the ire of longtime residents and homeless advocates, who say their desires, suggestions and dreams for the neighborhood—until recently 80 percent African-American—are seldom consulted and rarely implemented. “They use a lot of buzzwords and give the appearance of being warm and fuzzy, but without really having the interest to make it something real and true,” says neighborhood activist Jai Washington.
The only thing unreal about it, say officials, are the results.
“I couldn’t have imagined so much could have transpired,” says former Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, who helped create 3CDC in the aftermath of the 2001 civil unrest because he felt city organs weren’t up to the task. “You’ll find people who say that this is just about gentrification and I get that, but something had to be done. It was vital to the future of our city.”
As 3CDC shifts its focus to the poorer, less-developed northern half of the neighborhood, many here wonder if it can not just transform the district, but do so in a way that elevates, rather than displaces, the people living there. “It seems to me that all of these people, the people moving in and the people being displaced, are all citizens of this city, and I think all citizens have a right to expect their interests are being attended to equally,” says Brother Tim Sucher, one of a dozen Franciscan friarsbased at St. Francis Seraph, a 157-year-old compound at Vine and Liberty Street, the new boundary between the old and new Over-the-Rhine. “In the long run, it’s good for the city.”
Over-the-Rhine is an architectural treasure, 362 acres of densely-packed 19th century brick Italianate and German Revival buildings that locals claim as the largest historic district in the United States (a title contested by Savannah, Georgia). That it has survived, relatively unscathed, into the 21st century is something of a miracle.
It was built by Germans, and lots of them. They started coming in the 1830s, then arrived by the tens of thousands after the failure of the democratic 1848 revolutions in the German states. At the time, a recently completed canal linking Lake Erie with the Ohio River bowed around Cincinnati’s center—it was later filled in and renamed Central Parkway—and the Germans congregated on the far side. By the 1870s it was one of the densest neighborhoods in the Western Hemisphere, with German-speaking churches, German-language schools and newspapers, and a network of breweries built atop enormous beer cellars, themselves connected to taprooms and beer gardens by clandestine tunnels, built to circumvent city ordinances. “If the scene in its frivolity and uproarious gaiety recalls the Sundays of Paris,” a writer for Harper’s reported in 1883, “the locality may be described as considerably more German than Germany itself.” Visitors had by then long referred to crossing the canal as going “over the Rhine” and the name stuck. By 1900, there were 45,000 people living there.
Then the Germans started leaving. Anti-German hysteria during World War I played a major part. The teaching of German was suddenly banned, Dresden Street was renamed Republic, and German books were pulled from the libraries. The Austrian-born conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and his wife were imprisoned and deported. “It got so bad that on Fountain Square they had public stonings of dachshunds and German shepherds,” says Craig Manness, who gives historical tours of Over-the-Rhine and its subterranean beer tunnels and admits to owning three pairs of lederhosen. “That’s when you saw the first big exodus from the neighborhood. People moved to places like Price Hill and changed their names or the spelling of their names to try to hide their German ethnicity.”
Meanwhile, city officials were drawing up plans to purge the inner city of its alleged slums, including Over-the-Rhine. In 1933, the city planning commission proposed razing half the neighborhood—and much of the adjacent African-American West End area—and replacing it with public housing “superblocks.” The West End was ravaged by a 1948 plan to belt the city center with expressways—the construction of Interstate 75 alone displaced thousands—but Over-the-Rhine dodged the bullet.
As Germans had moved out, they were being replaced by largely Scots-Irish Appalachians from Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee; the Great Depression and the mechanization of coal mines had pushed tens of thousands northward in search of work. The city’s war industries provided that and the city fathers were soon confronting the new challenge of how to assimilate the newcomers to urban life. “The people were kind of not used to the scheduling and the involvement of agencies in their lives,” says Bruce Tucker, professor emeritus of history at the University of Windsor in Canada who studied these migrants. “There was this narrative that the men were violent because they didn’t have the same civilizing constraints on them in the mountains, that they weren’t likely to recognize the authority of the police, that they were hard drinkers because of the availability of moonshine.”
To address this new problem, late 60s community activists tried to rally the neighborhood around its Appalachian identity—O.T.R. could be “the mother neighborhood” of urban Appalachia—and created an Appalachian Identity Center to pass on folk culture, an Appalachian studies program at a local elementary school, an Urban Appalachian Council to research and lobby for the community. It didn’t work. The ones who could moved out. “The clustering of the population began to erode,” Tucker says, “and the people left were the ones who couldn’t get out.”
The destruction of swaths of the West End had forced many of its African-American residents to relocate to Over-the-Rhine. There they and their Appalachian neighbors found ample but substandard subsidized housing, courtesy of the new federal Section 8 tax credits for landlords. The unintended result was that absentee landlords scooped up properties in O.T.R., concentrating the housing for the city’s poorest people in the neighborhood for the next three or four decades. “This was lightning striking Over-the-Rhine for sure, but it didn’t come from God, it came from HUD,” recalls Jim Tarbell, who moved to the neighborhood in 1971 and later represented it on the City Council. “There wasn’t any money on the table for market-rate housing or commercial development.” Over-the-Rhine began to crumble, its middle-class residents having largely run for the surrounding hills.
That’s when a charismatic leader arrived, rallied area residents, took on City Hall and, depending on whom you talk to, either gave his life for the cause of social justice or stubbornly drove the neighborhood to ruin. Or both.
Buddy Gray had grown up on a small farm with a swimming pool in the eastern suburb of Mount Carmel, the son of a railroad executive, but while studying at Purdue University became involved in left-wing politics and protests against the Vietnam War. In the early 1970s he dropped out, moved to Over-the-Rhine and started tutoring poor children at a local church. He grew his beard and hair and befriended street alcoholics, one of whom froze to death while sheltering in an abandoned building. Haunted by the incident, Gray made the championing of Over-the-Rhine’s poor his life’s work, in his words “a hard-nosed radical, a street fighter for the street people.”
Under cover of darkness in the middle of a 1978 blizzard, Gray and his allies seized control of an abandoned Teamsters Union Hall across from Music Hall, the one place in Over-the-Rhine the city elite still visited. They repurposed it as the Drop Inn Center, a homeless shelter with few rules and, ultimately, a capacity of more than 200. From this headquarters, his Over-the-Rhine Peoples’ Movement tangled with developers, historic preservationists and city officials to stop the displacement of the neighborhood’s poor. They flooded public hearings to stop the neighborhood from being added to the National Register of Historic Places, delaying the process for three years. Their triumph: the city’s 1984 master plan, which effectively reserved O.T.R. for low-income development. “We had to change the status quo,” says his longtime friend Bonnie Neumeier, co-founder of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, a community education and activist organization based in a former elementary school. “Our neighborhood had been a community for displaced people for years and those people were saying we have a right to be here.”
Tarbell, the city councilor, also wore long hair and sandals, but clashed with Gray’s forces, believing a mixed-income, mixed-use approach to be the only way to revive the neighborhood, where the population had fallen to under 12,000 in 1980. “Buddy came into town on his white horse and had his mind made up that there was a conspiracy to not serve the poor, but didn’t have a practical aspect of how you deal with it,” he says. “You don’t compound what [the federal Section 8 program] did with protest signs that say: ‘Stay out of here with your market rate development! The only development here is low income!’”
Luken, who was serving his first turn as mayor, was appalled at the result. “In the 80s you couldn’t touch a brick in Over-the-Rhine because Buddy Gray and other people, however well-intentioned, were protecting it for low-income folks,” he says. “Half the buildings were empty, but they didn’t feel that mattered.” On Vine Street, the owners of one of the few stores to hold out from the German period—Suder’s Art Store—watched more and more properties get boarded up because their owners saw no financial benefit to rehabilitating them. Properties purchased by Gray’s organizations with city grants stood empty. “He was warehousing a lot of property, which wasn’t helping the crime situation,” recalls co-owner Sharon Suder. “It wasn’t helping the people he set out to help either.”
City revitalization efforts skipped Over-the-Rhine in favor of the riverfront—where taxpayers spent over a billion dollars to build new stadiums for the Reds and Bengals—and the Central Business District, where corporate leaders were funding improvement projects. “All that money that could have been put into Over-the-Rhine went elsewhere,” Tarbell laments.
But to Gray’s horror, in the 1990s outsiders began opening up bars and clubs on the southern fringe of O.T.R., most of them clustered along Main Street, three blocks east of Vine. Young people from outside the inner city drank at Neon’s and Rhinos, caught comedy shows at Aunt Maudie’s, and, if they were hearty, headed over to The Warehouse, an edgy after-hours club at 13th and Vine in the heart of what the crack trade had made the city’s most dangerous area.
Entrepreneurs moved into the upper floors, creating a nascent tech start-up scene soon dubbed the Digital Rhine. “You had a million people a year coming to the bars in Over-the-Rhine and having a good time and they’d look around at the buildings and would say this was an area that should be redeveloped,” says Chris Frutkin, then a modest developer who owned properties in the district. “Buddy’s policies were seen as bankrupt.”
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, describes the endgame. “In that era, it was different businesses buying buildings and working hard to gentrify the area,” he says. “As such, our organizations were able to organize enough to invoke democracy and slow it down and hem it in at just Main Street.”
Then two volleys of bullets, five years apart, shattered the stalemate.
The first came was on the morning of November 15, 1996. Wilbur Worthen, a mentally-ill 56-year-old whom Gray had befriended, burst into his office at the Drop Inn Center and shot him to death with a .357 magnum. Two thousand people marched the streets of O.T.R. in his honor, but the anti-gentrification movement had lost an irreplaceable leader.
The second came in front of The Warehouse on the night of April 7, 2001, when police officer Steven Roach, who was white, chased 19-year-old Timothy Thomas, who was black and wanted on 14 minor warrants, mostly for traffic violations. The chase ended in an alley behind Vine, when Roach shot Thomas, who turned out to be unarmed, through the heart. The killing, the 15th of an African-American at the hands of police in five years, ignited days of civil unrest, culminating in roaming bands pulling motorists from their cars, looting stores and setting them on fire and tense showdowns between police and protesters. Luken, again mayor after a stint as congressman, declared a state of emergency and a citywide curfew that lasted four nights.
When the dust cleared, city leaders began to take stock, starting with Mayor Luken. “The riots completely ended it for me with the Gray point of view,” he recalls. “I was worried about the future of the city. After the riots, it was really like, ‘Will the last person turn out the lights?’ But out of desperation comes innovation.”
In the high-rise office towers of the business district there had long been a sense that something big needed to be done to revitalize the inner city and with it, greater metropolitan Cincinnati. As smoke rose across Central Parkway, there was a renewed sense of urgency at the world headquarters of Macy’s, Kroger supermarkets, Procter & Gamble, and other companies that often acted in concert through the Cincinnati Business Committee.
“Some other cities have huge endowments, like Pittsburgh and the Heinz Foundation and Indianapolis’ Lilly Foundation, but we don’t,” says CBC Chair Tom Williams, co-owner of the Cincinnati Reds. “For us, P&G is the big gorilla in town and it cares about Cincinnati because it has to recruit people to come here at a time when the whole wave of our country has been people moving back from the suburbs. They needed to make sure the city was attractive to people.”
After the riots, they brought in New York real estate consultant John Alschuler, who later spearheaded planning for Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia riverfront. “At the time, everyone was rallying behind a riverfront project called The Banks, and my thinking was that, in terms of revitalizing downtown, this was doomed to failure,” Alschuler recalls. “I said you have to deal with the heart of the matter, which isn’t underutilized land down by the river, but at the heart of the city—at Fountain Square and Over-the-Rhine.”
Fountain Square, five blocks south of O.T.R., had always been the symbolic center of the city—the site where crowds burned Kaiser Wilhelm in effigy in 1918 and later celebrated each of five World Series victories—but had deteriorated into a dangerous and depressing space bypassed by badly executed, 1970s-era skywalks. Fix it, he said, or downtown will never thrive. Nor, he advised, could it do so as long as it abutted an area of enormous economic distress. “Over-the-Rhine has to be restored as a mixed-income neighborhood where poor-, moderate-, and upper-income people all have a future,” he recalls saying. “The whole city has a stake in Over-the-Rhine.”
Alschuler’s other key advice: don’t issue another study; nothing has come of all the ones you’ve released. Instead, create a private entity with the capacity to deliver change at Fountain Square and Over-the-Rhine, devote capital to it, and hire the foremost talent in the country to staff it. “That will give you credibility,” he recalls advising.
Nobody had to twist Mayor Luken’s arm.
In 2002, shortly after the creation of a new master plan for Over-the-Rhine, he announced he was eliminating the planning department. “It was my view that the city was not good at economic development generally, and that we needed a nonprofit corporation to move forward,” he recalls. “But it wasn’t going to work unless we had buy-in from the business community, and I thought that the CEO of P&G was key to that.”
So one Saturday morning in late 2002 or early 2003, he called A.G. Lafley, Procter & Gamble’s president, CEO, and board chairman, and asked him to come over to City Hall. In the two-hour meeting that followed, Luken says Lafley “kicked his tires,” trying to ascertain “if there was the political will to back up the difficult decisions ahead.” Lafley recalls they agreed this was going to be a big undertaking. “This wasn’t going to take a year or two, but a decade or more, and it was going to require all of the assets and resources of the city coming together, setting aside all their separate agendas, and agreeing to support a clear strategy and set of goals,” Lafley says. “Then he twisted my arm and asked me to lead it. No good idea goes unpunished!”
With Lafley aboard as board chair, in July 2003, Luken announced the creation of 3CDC. The Cincinnati Business Committee provided startup funding by bequeathing the new entity an existing $17 million fund it had set up to buy and improve real estate. The city would support 3CDC by various tax incentives and access to federal community development grants. For its part, 3CDC would seek federal support using a new program called the New Markets Tax Credit, intended to spur investment in distressed areas. Procter & Gamble and the other corporate players kicked in $50 million to buy and bank properties through the New Market programs and committed to a $1.2 million annual contribution for operating expenses. The corporations provided all the direct funding and their executives also comprised the 30-person board of directors; to this day, no public officials are members. They hired Stephen Leeper, who had headed Pittsburgh’s Sports & Exhibition Authority for six years and overseen the development of new baseball and football stadiums, a convention center and riverfront park in that city, to run the show. He’s still running 3CDC today.
Fountain Square’s rehabilitation was something of a dress rehearsal for Over-the-Rhine: a major reengineering of a contested civic space, including removing skywalks, fixing a 600-space underground parking garage, and moving the great bronze 43-foot-tall statue and fountain from which the square takes its name, away from traffic. “When we said we were going to move that foundation a little bit, it was like we were taking somebody’s first born child,” Luken recalls. “They did a poll on TV and it was like 94 to 6 against moving it but we did it anyway.” Inspired by New York’s Bryant Park, the $48 million makeover was completed in 2006 to general acclaim. “After that,” Luken says, “the public-private partnership was solid.”
All the while, 3CDC was buying up properties in Over-the-Rhine, some 1,000 parcels in all, and drawing up plans for how to engineer a lasting renaissance.
By most accounts, Over-the-Rhine had hit rock bottom. In the aftermath of the 2001 riots, fewer suburbanites were willing to come to the neighborhood, so most of the bars and clubs on Main Street failed. The dot-com bust dried up the Digital Rhine. Most Section 8 tax credits finally expired around the turn of the millennium and landlords had let their properties run down, prompting residents to take their housing vouchers and leave the area altogether. By 2007, the population had fallen to under 5,000, a ninth of its zenith. Buildings were collapsing, prompting the National Trust for Historic Preservation to name it to its 2006 list of the 11 “most endangered” places in the country. One of the neighborhood’s biggest landlords declared bankruptcy, sending over 900 units of formerly subsidized housing to the auction block.
“It was a horrible time,” housing activist Neumeier recalls. “They were almost saying that the neighborhood has to be cleared of its undesirables.”
3CDC’s first move was to shut down corner liquor stores by becoming their landlords. “You could take a crime map and lay it over the neighborhood and see that many of the calls for service were taking place in front of these carry-out stores,” recalls Anastasia Mileham, 3CDC’s vice president for communications. Crime dropped by 36 percent from 2004 to 2008 as they pushed the stores out.
3CDC had banked a huge number of properties. Its strategy was to redevelop them in phases, block by block, in the hopes of cascading development from one quadrant of the neighborhood to the next. “Think big, but go small,” as Leeper would later put it. As the organization pivoted from Fountain Square in 2007, it first developed a half dozen buildings at the entrance to what they branded the “Gateway Quarter,” the first block of Vine Street north of Central Parkway, where the canal had once run. As those neared completion—mixed commercial-and-residential buildings—they shifted to the next set of properties farther up the street, redoing the sidewalks, lighting and utilities as they spread north. Pioneering entrepreneurs took leases in the ground-floor spaces—restaurateur Jean-Robert de Cavel’s Lavamatic, Daniel Wright’s pub-style Senate restaurant , the MiCA 12/V crafts store—and empty nesters and young professionals bought condos above. “The real heroes of this story are the folks that brought those first condos, the guy who opened the first restaurant,” says Mileham.
The organization, which moved its headquarters into the neighborhood, extended its plans right down to what sort of business would occupy each space. “I look at them as similar to when Walt Disney purchased land in Orlando,” says Eric Weissmann, a former Disney marketer who now heads marketing for Cintrifuse, a tech startup advocacy group that now occupies the 3CDC-repurposed Union Hall that was once The Warehouse. “They said, this needs to be a restaurant, this needs to be a store, this needs to be a condo building.” All of them were local by design. “We made a pretty big decision that we weren’t going to go for national chains,” says Lafley, who is now P&G’s executive chairman. The local business owners, he notes, tend to have local supply and service chains and “an incredible commitment to the city, because it’s their home, they live here, work here, and invest here.”
A second focal point was Washington Park and adjacent Music Hall, a grand European-style civic monument built in 1878 and home of the city’s ballet, opera, symphony and pops orchestra. With the Drop Inn Center and other social service providers nearby, the park had long been a gathering place for the city’s homeless and drug users, but also for area residents who by day used the basketball courts and deep-water swimming pool. Working with the city and its parks commission, 3CDC broke ground in 2010 on a $47 million makeover, extending the park from six to eight acres, constructing a 450-space parking garage underneath, and replacing the courts and pool with an interactive water feature, playground, dog park and events space. They helped a public magnet school, the School for Creative and Performing Arts, move across the neighborhood to the south end of the park, persuaded the Drop Inn Center to decamp to new facilities it helped build farther from the center, and partnered with the city on a $135 million renovation of Music Hall. Construction was slowed when workers began digging up bodies—there were cemeteries on the site in the early 19th century—but the park reopened in 2012.
David Knox, The Brandery co-founder whom 3CDC persuaded to move offices to Vine in 2011, says he finally exhaled in the spring of 2013 when his wife suggested they take their young twins to do their Easter egg hunt in the park, rather than their northern Kentucky suburb. “That’s when I knew the neighborhood wasn’t tipping back,” he says with a laugh. “We’ve got this.”
But even as 3CDC is praised across the city for turning the neighborhood around, it has generated ill will among longer-term residents and community activists who accuse it of being an efficient and unaccountable agent of gentrification. After all, they note, 3CDC’s own website says its task was to implement the city’s 2002 master plan for the neighborhood, a document whose stated goal is to “create an economically and racially diverse community that can be sustained over the long term.” So far, they charge, that’s not the direction things have gone. Census estimates show that the redeveloped southern half of the neighborhood is becoming more white. A lot more. From 2010 to 2014 it went from about 60 percent black to two-thirds white, while the still-undeveloped section north of Liberty Street has remained over 80 percent African-American.
“They say all the things the people want to hear, but that’s not really the goal,” charges local activist Jai Washington, who questions how a board of corporate leaders can know what local people actually want and need. “If the goal is really to increase economic development and growth in the urban core and not about bringing the community up from a citizen’s perspective, they should be transparent and say so.”
Neumeier, at the Peaslee Center, ticks off community grievances: 3CDC closed the corner stores where people could buy milk or a bag of chips; the hardware store on Vine where they got their garden supplies, pots and pans, or masking tape; the soft-serve ice cream places; and, worst of all, the laundromats. “So it’s all high-end bars and restaurants and gourmet hot dogs at Senate,” she says. “You’re not going to have neighborhood families going there.” And don’t get her started on the loss of basketball courts at Washington Park or the fact the replacement pool over at Ziegler Park will be operated by a private company, rather than the city recreation department, which kept prices low.
The people who used to hang out in Washington Park are now on the steps of Brother Tim’s friary on the north side of Liberty, congregating each night to hang out in a place where they’re tolerated and that’s relatively safe. “I’m personally not opposed to the gentrification of OTR for many reasons, including that the city will have to widen their tax base to survive, but it seems to me that there’s no planning for the people who are going to be displaced,” he says. “There’s been this sort of arrogance on 3CDC’s part that they had a plan and that they really didn’t need the people who were already in the neighborhood.”
3CDC officials feel these charges are unfair, that they’ve devoted resources and attention to improving homeless shelters ($43 million), securing financing for low-income and subsidized housing, and building mixed-income projects throughout the area. They’ve helped Joseph House, which serves homeless vets, get new quarters, and hired local residents for maintenance, cleaning and customer service jobs in the public spaces it manages. “Often the naysayers don’t have the big picture, and aren’t aware of how involved 3CDC is in so many aspects of city building,” says Mileham.
They’ve also supported Mortar, the nonprofit for which Allen Woods and his colleagues work to mentor and support local people seeking to engage in entrepreneurial activity, be it making jewelry or opening a chain of boutiques. “When people do redevelopment, they’re looking at the potential of the buildings,” he says. “And we’re looking at the people and saying the same thing: They have potential and just need someone to invest in them.” Their 20-person classes have long waiting lists, but its still a drop in the bucket, especially as only 7 percent of attendees have come from O.T.R.
Jim Tarbell thinks gentrification is sadly inevitable because the city couldn’t act until it was far too late to shore things up. “If we had done this 30 years ago, a lot of people could have still stayed here and we’d be on our way to doing another wonderful phase of mixed everything,” he says. “But we waited so long and the [Section 8] tax credit situation was so severe and so pervasive that the die was cast really.”
Others think there’s still a chance to get the balance right as the focus shifts to the northern half of the neighborhood, where entrepreneurs have been focused on reviving the neighborhood’s light industrial legacy, brewing. “The neighborhood was built as dense, walkable and mixed-used with everything from retail to manufacturing to entertainment to residential,” says Greg Hardman, owner of the Christian Moerlein Brewing Co., which in 2010 moved back to the neighborhood where it had been founded, 157 years earlier. He leads a group aiming to make the area, dubbed the Brewery District, into what he calls “a healthy, balanced, and supportive neighborhood economy” that focuses on its existing assets. The opening of a streetcar line connecting the area with the rest of Over-the-Rhine, downtown, and the riverfront this summer will likely bring more casual visitors, and their dollars, to the area.
Back at the gateway-end of Vine, Sharon Suder’s art supply and framing shop remains much as it was two decades ago, the increased foot traffic and the rise of Internet competitors having canceled each other out. Her family has declined to sell to 3CDC, even though the upper floors of their three-story building are vacant, and she found dealing with them during their reconstruction of the adjacent Union Hall property difficult. But are the changes they’ve created for the good? “Oh, yeah,” she says. “Otherwise a lot of these buildings, one by one would have collapsed and we’d have lost a real architectural treasure in the city.”
“You can’t warehouse the toughest part of your city right next to your downtown and think your downtown is going to survive,” she adds. “Those of us who were here were saying this for 20 years before the right folks in town managed to figure it out.”