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.”
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.”