Friday, August 22, 2014

ACCE 2014 Takeaway: Over-the-Rhine is a Revitalization Best Practice

By Alexia Eanes, Operations Manager. 

Last week over 800 people traveled to downtown Cincinnati for the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) annual convention and centennial celebration. Market Street is proud to be a sponsor of ACCE and we always look forward to spending a week with Chamber leaders celebrating their accomplishments and efforts. The annual convention is held in a different city each year to showcase different offerings and improvements that the hosting city has accomplished. Cincinnati proved to be a perfect location, not only because ACCE was founded within the city 100 years ago but also because of the significant downtown revitalization efforts that have occurred recently such as the Duke Energy Convention Center, the Great American Ballpark, and the Horseshoe Casino among others.

Downtown Cincinnati, like many other cities, is experiencing a boom in the urban core. People are moving back downtown and things are happening and being built. Close to downtown, a neighborhood that has gone through historical trials and tribulations but is now coming out on top: Over-the-Rhine, or OTR for short. In the mid-19th century OTR experienced substantial German in-migration, hence adopting the main river in Germany in the districts name, the Rhine. OTR was a predominantly German area with German magazines, bakeries, beer halls, and European architecture dominating the quarter. Streets are still lined with historic buildings that create unique character for the area and are a priority for many preservationists. Unfortunately, after World War II, the neighborhood started experiencing a continuous decline transforming it to one of the most distressed neighborhoods in the nation. In the early 2000’s 58 percent of the area’s residents lived at or below the poverty line, 25 percent were unemployed, and the area’s median household income stood at $10,000, and crime was at an all-time high. Things got so bad that in 2006 the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed it as one of the eleven most endangered historic places in the nation.

With these sobering statistics, where does a city even begin to try and make the area more prosperous? In 2003 the City of Cincinnati became involved and enlisted its major corporate leaders to create the Cincinnati City Center Development Corp. (3CDC) to take on the issue. 3CDC is a non-profit, real estate development and finance organization that works primarily in OTR and Cincinnati’s central business district and has overseen much of the revitalization that has occurred over the past couple years. Since its incorporation, 3CDC has restored hundreds of historic buildings creating living units, commercial space, and parking decks to accommodate the area’s new visitors. To date, 3CDC has invested $315 million dollars ($53 million of that is public support) in OTR.

With the time, dedication, and investment in the area, it is now booming. Young professionals are purchasing condos in renovated buildings and restaurants and businesses are moving into the area. Washington Park, a major green space and meeting place in OTR, received a $48 million facelift. The historic Brewery District is even tapping into its German past and holding events such as Bockfest, the OTR Biergarten, and hosting tours on the Brewing Heritage Trail. The ever popular and historically preserved Findlay Market is thriving economically after receiving a major facelift, and brings in diverse crowns from all over the area to shop locally. Things are happening, people are moving in, and there’s a general feeling of place being created.

As national statistics show that more and more people are choosing to move into downtowns and urban areas, cities and city leaders are taking notice. Cincinnati’s focus on OTR and its surrounding business district is a great example, as well as a great best practice, for what can happen when you create a space where people want to be.