3CDC, Drop Inn Center reach deal to move homeless shelter out of Over-the-Rhine

New Queensgate shelter would cost about $13M

CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati City Center Development Corporation and the Drop Inn Center have a handshake agreement to move the region’s largest homeless shelter from Over-the-Rhine to Queensgate.

The shelter’s new location would be at the old Butternut Bread factory at 747 W. Fifth St., which 3CDC already has purchased through one of its real estate holding companies.

The site represents “most of the things on our wish list, which is fantastic,” Drop Inn Center Executive Director Arlene Nolan told WCPO during a meeting at the 3CDC offices on Friday.

3CDC, the influential developer the city has put in charge of Over-the-Rhine's rebirth, has been working with the Drop Inn Center to find a new location since May 2010. The Drop Inn Center offers the homeless a safe place to sleep with minimal requirements for people who need its services.

The shelter now sits just across the street from Washington Park in the middle of hundreds of millions of dollars in investment that’s been made in the historic neighborhood in recent years.

The $72 million School for the Creative and Performing Arts campus opened across the street from the Drop Inn Center in August 2010, for example.

And in 2012 3CDC oversaw the $48 million expansion and renovation of Washington Park right across from the shelter. The nonprofit developer also has overseen the redevelopment of dozens of buildings in Over-the-Rhine, representing many millions of dollars.

Homeless advocate Josh Spring said in a news release that developers and government officials should be working to maintain affordable housing in the city to help address the problem of homelessness rather than moving poor people out of their neighborhoods.

"3CDC has spent hundreds of millions of dollars gentrifying Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District," said Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition. "We must create policy and spending that breeds opportunity, inclusiveness and real development – for everyone."

But 3CDC CEO Stephen Leeper said during an interview with WCPO that moving the Drop Inn Center is not about the gentrification of Over-the-Rhine. It’s about improving services for homeless people, he said.

“In this 30-block area, there are 1,000 affordable housing units that will remain affordable. We’ve done maybe 250 condominiums,” Leeper said. “Now we have a park where this neighborhood’s children can go and play safely. If that constitutes gentrification, we are guilty as charged.”

Raising Big Money To Help Region's Needy

3CDC, whose board of directors is made up of some of the region’s most influential business leaders, might seem like an unlikely ally for Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s homeless.

But the Drop Inn Center is just the latest homeless services agency that 3CDC has helped. The organization also will build a new women-only homeless shelter to be operated by the YWCA in Mount Auburn and a new campus for City Gospel Mission also to be located in Queensgate.

3CDC also is working to raise additional operating funds for the Drop Inn Center, the YWCA, City Gospel Mission and two other shelters. One is a shelter for homeless people with substance abuse problems that is operated by Talbert House. The other is a shelter specifically for young adults operated by Lighthouse Youth Services.

“There’s no way all this could have gotten pulled off without 3CDC,” said Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati nonprofit. “We don’t have the development expertise that 3CDC has.”

Or the ability to raise big money, Finn acknowledged.

3CDC and Strategies to End Homelessness began working in 2011 to raise $25 million to build the new homeless shelters and change the way the region cares for some of its most vulnerable residents.

3CDC increased that fundraising target and is now working to raise nearly $34 million. So far, the organization has $28 million committed, Leeper said, with about half of that coming from local corporations, foundations and other private sources.

Work Has Faced Legal Challenges

The work hasn’t been without controversy.

The City Gospel Mission project has undergone a series of legal challenges from Queensgate business owners who have argued, in part, that having social services in the industrial neighborhood won’t be safe for the nonprofit’s clients.

But a Hamilton County magistrate’s ruling in October paved the way for that development to move forward, too.

A new Drop Inn Center represents the “final piece of the puzzle,” said Anastasia Mileham, 3CDC’s vice president of communications.

There is no firm price tag for the new shelter, which is still being designed. But 3CDC has been budgeting about $13 million for it, said Adam Gelter, a 3CDC executive vice president.

The project still has plenty of hurdles to clear.

Leeper noted that 3CDC will have to seek an exception to the city’s zoning laws to locate the shelter at the old Butternut site, along with various other approvals from the city of Cincinnati.

If

the agency gets the required approvals early next year, construction could begin sometime in the second quarter of 2014, Leeper said.

Leaving Over-the-Rhine hasn’t been an easy decision for the Drop Inn Center board of directors, said Elissa Pogue, the board’s chairwoman. Board members are worried about the higher operating costs of a new facility, which is triple the size of the former center, she said.

But to renovate the shelter at its current location would require closing it temporarily, she said, which seemed like “a big sacrifice.”

“The important thing has always been the needs of the residents, and that has helped ground the board,” Pogue said. “We had to balance the history of the Drop and the neighborhood and the strong feelings people had about the role 'The Drop' has played in the past.”

Leeper expects there will be “public discourse” about the project, he said.

3CDC presented its plans to the Queensgate Business Alliance Thursday.

While members of the business group have tremendous respect for the work that Nolan and the Drop Inn Center do, they worry about the impact of two major homeless shelter campuses on the industrial neighborhood, said David Noell, president of the alliance.

“Look, is anybody going to say this is something they had envisioned coming? Like anything else, this is new. This is different,” Leeper said. “I think people understand what we’re trying to do here.”

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