CINCINNATI -- Jessica Jeffreys Bostwick never pictured herself owning a chicken and certainly not trafficking in chicks.
Yet she'll receive 100 newborn peckers Feb. 22 to distribute to a dozen human foster parents who will gather at her house.
Bostwick and the foster families all live in Cincinnati's Madisonville neighborhood, a historic community that has seen its population dive from a peak of 19,000 in 1970 to about 10,000 in the 2010 census.
But that steep decline is reversing through a concerted effort of Cincinnati buying up property for redevelopment, a major corporation building its headquarters there and a lot of resident bonding over starting backyard chicken coops and gardens.
"The houses were right, the people were right, and I lucked out finding a house on a cute little dead-end street," Bostwick said of her move to Madisonville from Norwood. "I just love it."
The neighborhood hopes to announce financing within the next three months that will get a long-planned $40 million business district development under construction.
Spread across three blocks around the intersection of Madison and Whetsel avenues, the project will add a mix of housing and retail meant to spark additional growth, including:
• 185 apartments priced for people making $45,000 to $55,000 a year.
• A makeover for the Madison Center retail strip center and its 20,000 square feet of retail space.
• Another 7,500 square feet of new retail space below the new apartments.
The neighborhood is getting a very different jolt of economic stimulus from the expansion of Medpace, a drug and medical device developer that is adding 650 jobs to more than 1,100 existing jobs west of the business district along Red Bank Road.
Affordable alternative to neighbors
Madisonville is bordered by Cincinnati's Oakley neighborhood, Madeira, Indian Hill and Mariemont, all of which have far higher median housing prices.
That's part of the reasoning behind building apartments that those making $45,000 to $55,000 can afford.
Sheets said Madisonville is the rare neighborhood that is truly economically diverse, with about one-third of residents in low-, middle- and upper-income brackets.
The Ackerman Group is the developer and waiting to hear back from local and national holders of New Market Tax Credits, which would help pay for the project.
Concerted effort created opportunity
Lasserre Bradley III, Ackerman vice president of real estate development, said Madisonville is ripe for growth.
"As a developer, we look for neighborhoods that are well organized, supported by the city and ready for this kind of neighborhood resurgence. That credit goes to Madisonville and the city," he said.
Cincinnati has been buying property since 2008 after commissioning a report on revitalizing the neighborhood.
Sheets said growth is already accelerating in the business corridor, with 11 new businesses that opened in 2016 and two already this year.
"I used to say that when you can buy an ice cream cone in Madisonville, my job is done. Now you can at Mad Llama Café," she said.
But cone in hand, Sheets is aspiring for an even more elusive neighborhood amenity: a pharmacy.
"Now I want a place where I can buy a greeting card," she said.
The chicken coop surge was a byproduct of an earlier effort coordinated by resident Steve Rock and Lighthouse Community School, which serves children who have had problems at other schools.
Students garden and build chicken coops for sale.
Courtney Helgeson, a resident and owner of CooKoo's Coffee Shoppe, is hopeful but wary about the way the new development turns out.
"My hope is that they keep and develop the historical buildings that make Madisonville special," she said.
She and her husband bought a grand old brick building that was built by the International Order of Odd Fellows but had fallen into disrepair. They brought it back to life through sweat equity to make it a beloved neighborhood business.
Helgeson thinks the city can do a lot for the neighborhood just by replacing sidewalks and broken curbs and landscaping overgrown areas.
Regardless, she's a big fan of the neighborhood, which she adopted 11 years ago. "It wasn't so great when we got here," she said, referring to drug dealers soliciting her in daylight.
But its fortunes have improved. "It's kind of like you're Downtown without being Downtown," Helgeson said.
And chickens. She has five of her own in the yard behind the coffee shop.