Officials cite 'tremendous' urban development along streetcar route

CINCINNATI -- Nearly two billion.

That's what city officials estimate is the amount of money spent so far on development projects throughout Cincinnati's urban core since the promise of the streetcar became an actual plan.

It was a promise made nearly a decade ago, when the streetcar proposal was first approved in 2007. Since then -- clearing two attempts to kill the project and gaining a majority of support on City Council -- the landscape of The Banks, Downtown and Over-the-Rhine has transformed at what proponents regard as breakneck speed.

But what exactly does that landscape look like now, and can we expect the developments to keep coming?

Acknowledging that there is a critical mass for a space as dense as the urban core, city officials say we should be prepared for the growth to continue.

"We are experiencing tremendous resurgence throughout the urban core," City Manager Harry Black told WCPO, "especially in Downtown and Over-the-Rhine along the Cincinnati Bell Connector route."

Return on investment?

To be clear, the city's estimated $1.55 billion in public investment along the streetcar route includes building the streetcar itself, which came in around $148 million, but it's by no means the biggest project the city's seen in the area.

Black listed more than a dozen examples -- which do not even include fully privately-funded development projects -- of new arrivals to the urban core since the streetcar's proposal, including:

  • Cincinnati Bell Connector, completed 2016 ($148 million)
  • Washington Park, 2012 ($48 million)
  • 84.51, 2015 ($122 million)
  • The Banks, phase 3 began in 2015 ($29 million)
  • Queen City Square/Great American Tower, 2011 ($322 million)
  • Jack Casino, 2013 ($400 million)
  • Mercer Commons, 2012 ($25 million)
  • Mabley Place, 2014 ($9 million)
  • Fourth & Race, demolition began in 2016 ($77 million)
  • Eighth & Main, predevelopment phase began in 2016 ($50 million)
  • 15th & Race, predevelopment began in 2016 ($13.7 million)
  • 309 Vine, under construction in 2016 ($80 million)

And that list is by no means exhaustive.

In the zone

One of the reasons the lineup of developments along the streetcar route is so diverse is the way the city's urban core is zoned, with a significant portion allowing for what are specified as "planned development" parcels. In non-jargon speak, that refers to a property intended for a specific project that is approved by both the city's Planning Commission and council.

The Banks is a recent example, and it's projects like this that are most likely to include a mix of different types of uses, spanning residential, retail and commercial, according to city code. The Dennison Hotel property, located at the corner of Seventh and Main streets and whose future remains uncertain after a blocked attempt to demolish the historic building, as well as Washington Park and Mercer Commons in Over-the-Rhine also fit into this category.

Zoning map for Downtown, The Banks and Over-the-Rhine. Click or tap for interactive map.

Probably the biggest piece of the urban core's zoning pie is known as "Downtown development," which is meant to achieve a "balance of uses and amenities" for the city's center while also working to preserve the historic and architectural style of the zone. 

Within Over-the-Rhine, especially north of Liberty Street, much of the district is intended for multi-family residential properties. They are typically located near the city's major roadways and accommodate a variety of styles of multi-family housing strategies, whether it's a duplex or a larger complex with dozens of residences.

Another small portion of developments along the streetcar route are designed specifically with pedestrian-friendliness. Referred to as "Community-Commercial Pedestrian" projects, these are found mostly in OTR, specifically what has become known as the Gateway District along Vine St. between Central Parkway and Liberty Street. In these areas, city code calls for "traditional urban character, requires buildings to be built to the street/sidewalk line... and design standards (that) reinforce the pedestrian character."

On top of all these categories, too, is the high density of historically designated buildings. They come with their own restrictions on what can be done with the property, and also require approval by the city's historical conservation board.

The 'urbanism trend'

It's all part of a trend toward "urbanism" -- the general term planners use to describe the study of how city dwellers live in a densely populated environment -- that Black said the city has been working toward for years.

It's also a trend of which Black said the streetcar is just a single component.

"The city administration, the business community and local partners...are committed to capitalizing on the urbanism trend, the streetcar, and the other positive economic drivers to continue spurring development opportunities," he said, referring to the urban core as the city's "primary economic engine."

And Black also said not to expect the trend to slow down anytime soon.

"Combined these projects represent $1.55 billion in total investment," he said, "which we hope to continue experiencing for some time to come."

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and development for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur).

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