Top 9 ways that the new I-71 interchange in Walnut Hills will change Cincinnati's Uptown

CINCINNATI -- The new Interstate 71 interchange with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is only partially open, but it's already making a big impact on revitalizing Walnut Hills, Avondale and other surrounding neighborhoods.

Here are nine ways that the MLK interchange is changing the face of Uptown:

1- Avondale rising: Like many urban core neighborhoods, Avondale is rich with homes and apartments built to last generations. But it has struggled more than most neighborhoods to reverse the decades-long trend of families moving into suburbs.

Promise of the new interchange jump-started redevelopment, including HGC Construction's major investment in the neighborhood. HGC is renovating eight 1950s-era masonry buildings and building new apartments.

An HGC rehab project. Photo by Bob Driehaus | WCPO

2- Sears building transformed: University of Cincinnati seized on the increased access to businesses and workers who live along I-71 to strip the old Sears department store on Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue down to its bones. UC is turning it into the 1819 Building, a research hub that will connect UC professional and student researchers with entrepreneurs.

The 1819 Building. Photo by Bob Driehaus | WCPO

3- Hotel and office project: Messer Construction and Terrex Development teamed up to create a huge project on the southeast corner of Reading and MLK that will include a hotel, several office buildings and space for future development.

The unnamed office and hotel development on Reading and MLK.

4- Wider circles: Dan Schimberg, Uptown Rental Properties president, has been pumping millions of dollars into new rental property in Uptown neighborhoods. He said the new interchange is going to provide a boost to Clifton as well.

"Clifton Gaslight picks up excellent uplift thanks to new I-71 access," he said, pointing out that many Clifton residents now snake up I-75 and the Norwood Lateral to get to I-71.

5- Wider circles 2: Schimberg also thinks the intersection will boost revitalization efforts in Cincinnati's Evanston neighborhood.

Ironically, I-71's construction decimated Evanston's business district, but the new MLK intersection will restore some access to the neighborhood.

Towne Properties has developed DeSales Flats on the border of Evanston and East Walnut Hills, a 92-apartment infusion of upscale housing in the neighborhood.

6- The Cincinnati Zoo gets increased access to I-71, giving a boost to those eager to meet Fiona the baby hippo or take in the Festival of Lights.

7- Cincinnati Children's Hospital gets quicker access to its main campus and its massive $650 million expansion there. 

8- Saving our bacon: Assistant Fire Chief Roy Winston said the new intersection will shave critical minutes off the response time to fires and health emergencies, especially for calls that the crew from the Madison and Woodburn station make that require them to travel on I-71.

The new interchange could help save lives.

"Our first houses that usually respond come from Madison and Woodburn, and they would have to go all the way over to McMillan. It will really cut down on responding to accidents that are north of Children's Hospital," he said.

9- Faster access to hospitals: University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's, the Veterans Affairs Hospital and Christ Hospital are all within two miles of the intersection, giving patients faster access for emergency and non-emergency visits.

"We’re looking forward to the new MLK interchange, as it’ll expedite patients getting to UCMC and Children’s Hospital," Matt Gunderman, Director of Air Care and Mobile Care at UC Medical Center, said. "Our ambulances will be able to get on the highway much quicker when responding to the north and south, and certainly when they’re returning to the hospital with a patient. It will also provide more convenience for patients who are coming to UCMC for routine procedures and doctor’s appointments."

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

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