From ghost town to night-on-the-town: Downtown Cincinnati's revitalization

Developments show Cincinnati is on the move

CINCINNATI -- On virtually any given evening, you can walk around downtown Cincinnati and run into people. In fact, you might find a large crowd either on Fountain Square, at The Banks or up in Over-the-Rhine.

Anyone who knows Cincinnati knows this is a relatively new situation for this once ghost town. It used to be that when the work day ended, downtown Cincinnati's sidewalks rolled up for the night. But now, the city comes alive.

Kevin Michell grew up in Maine. He now lives in downtown Cincinnati and works in Over-the-Rhine. A twenty-something, Michell says the nightlife in the city is growing by leaps and bounds. And, he adds, each time a new restaurant or bar opens, there's a new level of excitement in the air.

"Fountain Square is just effervescent, bubbling, full of energy. I think the energy is starting to radiate outward," Michell said.

The renovation by 3CDC seemed to have started the ball rolling for Cincinnati. Virtually every night there is programming on Fountain Square that entices people to the city, like Salsa on the Square, ice skating and free movie nights in the summer.

Now that The Banks is inhabited with residents, bars and restaurants, a community seems to be coming alive in that area too.

Michael Lee grew up on the west side of Cincinnati at a time when living downtown wasn't "cool."

According to Lee, it is now.

"When you live downtown and you start getting phone calls of people wanting to come down and visit downtown Cincinnati, which never used to be the case," Lee said.

Lee is one of the lucky ones who is renting an apartment at Current at The Banks. There is a waiting list to live there. Weekends are now filled with friends and family looking for a place to sleep after having a night out on the town. Lee says the only times he used to have visitors was when the Reds or Bengals were in town. Now, he says, there is something happening every night.

"We've Got Johnny Rockets right across from us, Holy Grail right below us, Moerlein House across the way," Lee said as he leaned out of his apartment window to gaze at the new developments.

Lee says he finds it hard to imagine what it will be like when the Horseshoe Casino opens in the near future.

"There is definitely a vibe here," Lee said.

And there are big events coming to Cincinnati. The biggest is the World Choir Games, which kicks off in Cincinnati July 4th and is expected to bring tens of thousands of people to Cincinnati from all over the world.

Lonely Planet Travel recently listed Cincinnati as a top destination of 2012. The list has Cincinnati third, comparable to the Virgin Islands at number one.

"If you can't get excited or feel proud of this, then I'm not sure you can get excited about anything," said the CEO of 3CDC, Steve Leeper.

3CDC renovated Fountain Square and then began tackling Over-the-Rhine, which had long been a source of crime in Cincinnati, not pride.

He points out the colorfully painted Italianate buildings in the neighborhood.

"Eight years ago, these were vacant buildings," said Leeper.

Most of them now house a restaurant or bar on the first floor and condos or homes on the second and third levels. In fact, of 3CDC's first four phases of home and condominium development in Over-the-Rhine, only 12 units remain on the market. Restaurants in this area regularly have multiple-hour waits for dinner on a Saturday night. Even weeknights can bring waits at some restaurants.

There are also new boutiques opening, which is drawing a fashion-forward crowd. Stores like Sloane, which owner Duru Armagn opened in November of 2011. Armagn didn't grow up in Cincinnati, but she fell in love with the neighborhood and knew she had to be part of its revitalization.

"I've just never seen so many people excited about a city," she said. "I think we're catching up to everyone else."

In the weeks to come, the redeveloped Washington Park will open. It will boast an area for concerts and a dog park. Underground parking at the park is already open and being used for concerts at the adjacent Music Hall.

More restaurants are opening at The Banks in the coming weeks. The Wine Guy, Ruth Chris' Steakhouse, Crave and more.

But it begs the question, is all of the development sustainable? Leeper emphatically says "yes."

"This is something you can not stop. You gotta keep investing. You gotta keep the momentum. You can't sleep. We certainly are not going to do that," Leeper said.

Need some hard proof that Cincinnati is rising? Here are a few bullet points that may make you a true believer:

Growing And Growing (According to the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce):
*In 2011, Cincinnati had higher total job and private-sector job growth than the U.S. overall and Ohio overall. And more growth than Columbus and Cleveland combined
*Cincinnati has the most jobs of any region in Ohio for the first time since the data has been tracked in 1990.
*Cincinnati has more total employment growth than markets such as Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver, Indianapolis and Charlotte, among others.
*In 2011, Cincinnati created almost half as many jobs as the entire state of Ohio.
*The Cincinnati region had 1.8 percent job growth in 2011 or 17,200 jobs.
* 3CDC has built 186 residential units in Over-the-Rhine to date. 94 percent are sold. Twelve condos are left.
* 3CDC has built 91,000 square feet of commercial space which is 85 percent leased
* 3CDC is set to break ground on 238 new residential units and 34,000 square feet of commercial space (this includes Mercer Commons, Paint Building, and seven projects in OTR Phase V Development – a total of 38 more buildings being renovated)
* 3CDC owns 200 buildings in the area from Central Parkway on the south to Liberty on the north, Elm on the west to Main on the East and 169 vacant parcels. 3CDC has rehabilitated 50 of these and are poised on another 50.
*Work on the Streetcar project is underway.

An Attractive Place To Visit:
* The World Choir Games are July 4-14, 2012 in Cincinnati. It is the first time the Games have been held in the United States.
* 20,000 participants are expected for the World Choir Games.
* Tens of thousands of visitors are expected for the World Choir Games from 70 different countries.
* The World Choir Games is Cincinnati USA's largest international arts event ever with an economic impact of $73.5 million.
* Travel website Lonely Planet rated Cincinnati third on a list of places to visit in 2012.
* Current at the Banks is 100 percent leased with a waiting list.
* Retail at the Banks is 84 percent leased with active discussions on all remaining spaces.
* Open establishments at the Banks and Smale Park: The Moerlein Lager House, The Holy Grail, Johnny Rockets, Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, Orange Leaf and the Police Welcome Center.
* Signed, but yet to open at the Banks; Tin Roof, Crave, The Wine Guy, Mahogany's and Ruth Chris'.
*Restaurants/bars flourishing in revitalized OTR: Senate, A Tavola, Lavomatic, Bakersfield, Abigail Street, Taste of Belgium, Lackman, 1215, Venice on Vine
* The Banks has already brought more than 300 new jobs to the region.
*The inaugural Bunbury Music Festival will bring several well-known bands and musical acts to Sawyer Point and the surrounding area July 13-15
*The Horsehoe Casino is expected to open in Spring of 2013

Where is your favorite place to go in the revitalized downtown Cincinnati? Leave a comment in the section below or on our Facebook page at

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