Cincinnati Streetcar's on the right track, business owners agree, but it's not enough

Next stop, they hope, is UC area

CINCINNATI -- When Danny Korman first returned to Cincinnati in late 2006 after a stint living in Chicago, one of the first topics of discussion among people he met was the possibility of a streetcar Downtown.

After he opened his restaurant, Park + Vine, in early 2007, Korman heard about the streetcar a lot. Having already lived in a city with a robust public transportation system, Korman was enthusiastic about the idea.

Nearly a decade of waiting has done little to dull his excitement for what is now known as the Cincinnati Bell Connector, which opened this weekend.

"We've been anticipating this for so long, and now it's finally here," Korman said. "It's like, 'Wow, it's happening.'"

 

Business owners along the streetcar route share Korman's excitement. Many are celebrating the opening by offering specials this weekend, and if any of them have said an ill word about the streetcar, Korman hasn't heard it.

"If anything, we hear more about the parking meters not working," he deadpanned.

Taste of Belgium owner Jean-Francois Flechet isn't sure that there are many cons to the streetcar.

"The economic benefits of the streetcar greatly outweigh the costs," he said.

Flechet credits his decision to open his original Taste of Belgium location in Over-the-Rhine to a conversation with then-Mayor Mark Mallory, who told Flechet the streetcar would stop near the storefront he was considering. When the tracks started being laid, he took it as a sign that the city was committed to the development of the neighborhood.

"The permanence of the track is what really attracts business and development along the line," said Flechet, who sees the streetcar as more of an economic development tool than a way to move people around.

Not that it won't do that.

Flechet is looking forward to more daytime visitors to Over-the-Rhine from the Central Business District, particularly at Findlay Market.

It's still a bit early to tell to what extent the coming of the streetcar will influence property values going forward. However, according to "The Economic Case for the Cincinnati Modern Streetcar," a city-commissioned study written by HDR Inc., property values in Tampa, Florida, increased a median of 120 percent after the opening of its streetcar system. Portland, Oregon, and Seattle saw similar increases, according to that study.

But that's just one of many ways to evaluate whether the streetcar should be considered a success, said Bob Deck, managing partner with Four Entertainment Group, which owns several bars along the streetcar route and was one of the first companies to sign on as an advertising partner of the streetcar. They include Low Spark Bar, The Lackman and Lachey's in OTR, as well as the Righteous Room and Igby's in Downtown.

"I think you've got to look at how much development has been along the route," Deck said. "I think you've got to look at property values. I think you've got to look at ridership."

And that includes looking at ridership numbers at different times of day: the traditional work commute, lunch and evening entertainment rushes, for example.

Of course, those numbers all remain to be seen. But that doesn't stop Deck from wanting to see the streetcar expanded north to Clifton and other neighborhoods around the University of Cincinnati.

David Beck, dental surgeon with Beck Pearce Dental, agrees with Deck on northward expansion. Beck's business moved from the Carew Tower to the U.S. Bank Tower partly because of the visibility offered by the streetcar, he said.

"I think the biggest thing is, it brings clients to and from around the city, different stops, to your area," Beck said.

A former Washington, D.C., resident, Beck appreciates the convenience of public transportation. He envisions himself using the streetcar extensively, and believes it will bring new patients to his practice.

"It's tough to get parking spaces here," Beck said. "If you're thinking infrastructure-wise, who wants to build more parking garages here? I'd like to see more places for people to live."

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