CINCINNATI -- It’s easy to see why a plan to build upscale townhomes in Avondale had critics.
A house with plywood for windows sits across the street and an occasional pothole litters a nearby alley. Of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods, this neighborhood is the deadliest and home to more shootings than any other in the city last year.
Still, community leaders say they’re proving doubters wrong, just weeks after they put eight Avondale townhomes up for sale.
“We had a lot of people saying, ‘this isn’t going to work,’” said Theresa Alexander, the realtor selling the townhomes, which range in price from $185,000 to $229,000. “The price point – people were kind of skeptical about that. Please, as soon as we opened these up, we had so much great interest in them.”
Half of the Hickory Place Townhomes, which sit just steps from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital on the 400 block of Northern Avenue, are under contract with a buyer after six weeks on the market. Avondale leaders are now mapping out where they’ll put eight more of the houses, with long term plans to have a network of 32 townhomes on the block.
Investors on the project hope to attract working professional to the area with the townhome, which are situated about three blocks from Cincinnati Children’s and the Cincinnati Zoo, said Beth Robinson, the president of Uptown Consortium Inc. The Uptown Consortium, a group of community leaders working to develop several Cincinnati neighborhoods, including Avondale and Clifton, was one of the organizations working to get the townhomes constructed.
“We really felt strongly that a new product, particularly around the medical campus, would help attract professionals around that area,” Robinson said.
That product is different from what’s already offered in Avondale.
It’s the largest new housing development to be constructed in the neighborhood in at least 25 years, Robinson said. The townhomes are much pricier than the average house in Avondale, which sells for $50,000, according to data from Realtor.com. And, brand new townhomes feature tandem two-car garages, granite countertops and hardwood floors – a contrast from the mostly historic homes or apartment complexes that dot the streets of Avondale.
That’s enticed Millennials, couples, families and older singles to stop in and look at the townhomes, said Mark Dehler, another real estate agent working to sell the properties.
“It has all of the things that people are looking for today,” Dehler said.
Cincinnati Children’s sold the land for a $1 to the Uptown Consortium and also donated $1.1 million. The units cost roughly $300,000 each to build but the donation helped to keep sales prices lower than that.
“We’re selling them way below market value because we want to jump start that area,” Robinson said.
The project has also benefited from residents who are interested in being city-dwellers but turned off by the expense of living in areas like Over-The-Rhine. One of the buyers who purchased a townhome, Alexander said, previously lived in Avondale and after years of living in the suburbs is making her way back to the neighborhood.
“We’re getting people that are looking at the city again,” Dehler said. “Downtown and Over-The-Rhine has caused a lot of excitement, which is great, but it’s now spilling over into Mount Auburn, Avondale and Evanston.”
Urban populations are on the uptick – and that momentum could translate into a new moment for Avondale.
Is it Avondale’s turn?
Increasing the number of homeowners is important for the future of Avondale, where an estimated 70 to 80 percent of the 12,500 people living there rent.
Putting people in homes – instead of rentals or apartments – means they’re more likely to stick around Avondale and invest in the neighborhood, said Ken Moore, the real estate and community development manager for the Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation.
“A stakeholder is just that; when you have a high rental rate, you don’t get that same push because they’re, by some nature, transient,” Moore said. “It’s important to retain people that will be an asset. The American Dream – it changes from year to year – (but) people still want to own a home.”
Moore said the new townhome project is the latest in a string of activity that is sure to set the neighborhood on a better path. A $50 million development along Reading Road will bring a grocery store and new apartments to the neighborhood. ACDC just put its second rehabilitated home on the market for $125,000 two weeks ago and they plan to rehabilitate between 8 and 15 houses next year.
“There has to be working class neighborhood,” Moore said of the neighborhood’s future. “There has to be somewhere that you can live, you can have a house, and you can go down the street, grab something to eat and be central to the city.”
Moore and Robinson’s organizations are working to develop a solid housing base through development such as the townhomes or the home rehabilitation in order to lure more businesses to the neighborhood in the future.
Building a sit-down restaurant for the neighborhood is a high priority, Robinson said. She said services like a pharmacy or dry cleaner are also wanted in the area.
“We really have to put some attention into the housing and attracting new residents in the area that can support those developments,” Robinson.
Alexander, the realtor working to sell the townhomes, thinks it will all come together for Avondale over the next few years.
“I think this is just the beginning,” she said. “It’s time for this area.”