New Year, new plans for Walnut Hills

CINCINNATI -  As millions of dollars of new investment pour into Walnut Hills, leaders say it’s time to take stock of what’s planned and wanted.

To usher in the New Year, the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation is leading efforts to craft a “reinvestment plan” for the transforming neighborhood to help guide redevelopment in the coming years.

“Walnut Hills, in a recent and short period of time, has gone from no interest to a lot of interest from investors and developers,” said Kevin Wright, executive director of Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, a nonprofit development agency. “But we’ve realized the neighborhood doesn’t really have a comprehensive plan for the physical change that’s happening.”

Starting this month, the foundation will conduct a three-month study of the neighborhood’s current land uses and the housing market. Using $90,000 in grants and money from the city of Cincinnati, the Kroger Co. and the Uptown Consortium, the foundation has hired Columbus-based consultants MKSK to “drill down” into demographics and development opportunities in Walnut Hills’ most rapidly changing areas.

"They're going to pull some site demographic data that will analyze who the recent housing development has been built for - baby boomers, young professionals, families, low-income residents," said Wright. "Ultimately, you want a balanced mix."

Specifically, MKSK will study the following three areas:

“Peebles’ Corner”: Named for a 19th century grocery store that once anchored this historic business district, Peebles' Corner along East McMillan and Gilbert Avenue is the hub for tens of millions of dollars in redevelopment plans. This month, developers with the Model Group expect to open Treverran Flats, a once busted row of aging buildings that have been remodeled into 30 new apartments. The foundation also recently announced an $18 million plan to renovate of the former Paramount Building into 40,000 square feet of office and retail space.

These buildings in the 900 block of McMillan Avenue in Walnut Hills are being redeveloped into 30 new apartments with street level retail space. (Provided)

Martin Luther King Jr. Drive: Construction of an $80 million interchange off of Interstate 71 is paving the way for a host of new development opportunities – with prospective hotel, retail and office developers eyeing available properties.

“It’s probably the biggest infrastructure investment the neighborhood is ever going to see and it’s completely changing the value and use of properties around it,” said Wright.

Southwest quadrant: Planners with MKSK will also offer a market analysis of the mostly residential Southwest quadrant of Walnut Hills, which includes properties south of McMillan between Gilbert and I-71. Here, the foundation is working the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, which has acquired several properties in the neighborhood.

Much of January will be used by MKSK to gather data, with plans for neighborhood input sessions and public meetings to be scheduled in February and March.

“There will be a lot of community engagement,” said Wright. “Hopefully, we’ll have a framework that will allow developers to come to the neighborhood with their ideas and then we can say – great – we have this concrete plan to build from.”

The ultimate goal, Wright said, is to craft a plan that “balances” resident wishes for their neighborhood with developer interests.

“When you’re talking about physical reinvestment, you have to be aware of what the market will bear, but you also have to be mindful of what the neighborhood wants,” he said. “It will be interesting to see where those match up – where they don’t – and how we all deal with that.”

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