CINCINNATI - For years Northside community leaders dreamed of housing and green space at the intersection of Virginia and Chase Avenues.
They wanted to turn it into a new gateway into the neighborhood.
However, transportation planners had other ideas. They envisioned a Colerain Connector to swiftly whisk traffic up through the valley toward College Hill, Colerain, Green and Springfield Townships. Eighty homes were bought and demolished along the proposed route. A dirt mound was constructed to carry a bridge from I-74 over Colerain Avenue.
However, a stalemate developed that lasted for decades, but Northside residents were finally able to kill the project.
On Friday, their dream of new homes became a reality. Ground was broken for Citirama 2012 at Virginia Square at the corner of Virginia and Chase Avenues. It's a joint venture of the City of Cincinnati and Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati.
"This provides new housing opportunities in an urban environment and provide a sense of place and help to re-energize communities," said Home Builders Association President Carolyn Rolfes. She also is president of Potterhill Homes, which will build at Virginia Square.
Four Cincinnati area builders will construct five single-family homes ranging in price from $200,000 to $300,000. The project ultimately will have 35 single-family houses and six non-traditional town homes.
"We can close the chapter on the Colerain Corridor," said Northside Community Council President Martha Dorson. "This completes the successful development for both housing and green space that was planned here all along."
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory praised the neighborhood's determination.
"This is an example of people standing up and saying very clearly what they want and what they don't want," he said. "As a matter of fact, the Colerain Connector would have come right across the top of my head had it been constructed."
It's the 11th year for Citirama and the second time the event has been held in Northside. Citirama 2010 was held at Rockford Woods and all 35 homes there were quickly sold. Developers hope the same thing happens this year.
"It's a clear indication people want this type of housing in the City of Cincinnati," said Mayor Mallory. "It's a way we are repopulating our city by building this type of housing stock."
Helping build the project are two-dozen members of "Blueprint for Success," a construction apprentice program of the Cincinnati/Hamilton County Community Action Agency.
"This opportunity means a lot to us. We're a team," said Antonio Taylor of College Hill. "The Blueprint for Success isn't just about us learning a trade and building things. The Blueprint for Success is about us helping bring back our community as young folks."
One of the unique features that potential buyers may find attractive is the 10-year property tax abatement on newly constructed homes. There's also a 15-year rollback available on homes that are LEED-certified.
Another attraction is low interest rates.
"People that are buying new homes can get rates down in the three percent area," said Don Beimesche, Vice-President and Cashier of Northside Bank and Trust. "The surprising thing is they're not taking advantage of it."
Beimesche said the main reason is consumers aren't confident in the direction the economy is headed.
New jobless numbers released by the U.S. Labor Department showed only 69,000 new jobs were created in May, about half of what had been expected. The construction industry actually lost 28,000 positions. The overall unemployment rate inched upward from 8.1 to 8.2 percent.
"People are scared," said Beimesche. "They're afraid of going into debt because they're not sure what's going to happen tomorrow."
Home Builders Association Executive Director Dan Dressman said he thinks the Greater Cincinnati housing construction market has bottomed out and is now stabilized. Many home builders and contractors closed during the recession.
"I think the ones that are still around today are the survivors," he said. "They've made the kind of changes they need to make to have a viable business."
Rolfes said it's projects like Citirama, which opens to the public Sept. 8 and Home-A-Rama, which opens June 9 in the Loveland area, that are helping home buyers find affordable places and home builders stay in business.
"I would say there are as many people hiring as there are people having to let people go at this point," she said.
Potterhill Homes has 35 employees right now and Rolfes doesn't plan to increase that number anytime soon.
Adding staff isn't in the cards for Terry Sievers, Midwest Regional President for The Drees Company, which employs 225 people in the Tri-State.
"As most companies are, we'll be tentative to add new jobs until we're sure better times have returned,"
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One of the biggest weekends of the year for Downtown Cincinnati is about to get underway, but there's a whole lot to do before the fun can start.