Hamilton's first new residential complex in decades marks high point in resurgence

HAMILTON, Ohio -- For decades, the city of Hamilton couldn't lure a developer to build new residential complexes within the hardscrabble city's borders.

Monday, that all changes when CMC Properties breaks ground on a 102-unit apartment complex with 11,000 square feet of street-level retail on the banks of the Great Miami River.

The Marcum, whose rents range from $850 for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,495 for a three-bedroom unit, marks a new high point in the city's resurgence.

"It's been decades since (new residential construction) has occurred, so you can imagine how excited not only city staff but residents in general are," said Jody Gunderson, Hamilton's economic development director. "It's confirmation that the investments that are being made are really starting to pay off."

Signs of a renaissance dot Hamilton's downtown. Next to the Marcum apartments, a new park will open in May. It borders Hamilton's riverfront amphitheater, which was built about five years ago, according to Gunderson.

Marcum Park and adjoining amphitheater. (Bob Driehaus | WCPO)

A short walk away, Municipal Brew Works craft brewery has opened in part of the imposing, beautiful Heritage Hall.

Municipal Brew Works. (Bob Driehaus | WCPO)

Around the block, North Second Tap and Bottle Shop is being retrofitted into an old storefront.

"You have to see what's going on there to really appreciate what's happening. It has had a complete resurgence after investing in its parks and recreation, its businesses," CMC President Jim Cohen said.

The resurgence begins with Hamilton's forefathers, he said, who had the vision to invest in beautiful masonry churches, county courthouse, government and office buildings. And through good and bad times, city leaders and property owners were able to maintain them to help prime today's expansion.

"There are beautiful gothic buildings, and they've taken incredible care of them. What has convinced us that Hamilton is ready is the beautiful buildings that are still there," he said.

The combination of historic buildings and new investment put the city in position to lure Millennials and empty-nest Baby Boomers into town, Cohen said.

While some may opt for Cincinnati's downtown or Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Hamilton is closer to some employers like Children's Hospital in Liberty Township.

"Hamilton is a city. It's a small city, but a real city. If you want to be in an authentic city, you're not going to find that in West Chester or Liberty Township, with all due respect to those communities," Cohen said.

CMC forecasts the project will take 12-16 months to complete.

It's banking on luring residents who want to walk the city's compact downtown.

"Millennials and Baby Boomers. For the first time in our history, the old people and the young people want to live in the same place -- an authentic downtown where you can walk around," Cohen said.

The location is meant to appeal to an active lifestyle, with bike paths, a YMCA around the block, the craft brewery and Fitton Arts Center all within an easy, flat walk.

The turnaround didn't happen overnight, according to Gunderson, who came to Hamilton from Minneapolis five years ago.

Mercy Health occupied the site of the new Marcum apartments before it moved out of the location. Hamilton razed the building and courted several developers before CMC decided to invest in the project.

Moves like building the amphitheater didn't have an immediate impact, but now redevelopment is speeding up.

"It's really happened much quicker than in other cities I have lived in," Gunderson said. "Once they've put a shovel in the ground you turn away and you begin to work on the next one."

Cohen said CMC is in early discussions about another residential development in the city, though he declined to go into details.

"We are incredibly bullish about Hamilton for this type of development," he said.

Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follow stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.

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