Madisonville, Wasson Way poised for big boost

Posted at 6:00 AM, May 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-25 18:26:51-04

CINCINNATI – Multi-million dollar plans to remake Madisonville’s business district and build the Wasson Way bike trail on Cincinnati’s East End stand to get a big boost under Mayor John Cranley’s proposed two-year budget.

The proposed investments – valued at nearly $16 million collectively -- are among roughly $35 million in spending outlined in Cranley’s budget plan, which he’s unveiling during a series of events this week.

WCPO was offered an early look at the proposal and the projects, which span Avondale, Bond Hill, College Hill, Madisonville, North Avondale, Roselawn, West Price Hill and Westwood. On Monday, Cranley outlined plans for $10 million in projects and investment in College Hill, Westwood and West Price Hill. Another $5.2 million would go toward remaking the Avondale Towne Center and luring redevelopment work to Roselawn and Bond Hill under efforts announced Tuesday.

“The vast majority of these projects have been on the planning table for a long time, but they lacked resources to get them done,” Cranley said.

“Waiting a Long Time for This”

On Wednesday morning, Cranley is expected to join Madisonville leaders and planners behind the Wasson Way trail to offer details on the proposed investments carved out in his budget plans.

In Madisonville, new retail space, office space and at least 300 apartments are planned under a proposed redevelopment agreement between the Ackerman Group and the city.

For more than a decade the city has worked to acquire abandoned and decaying properties at the corner of Madison and Whetsel roads in the hopes of one day reviving the neighborhood’s struggling business district.

Artist's rendering of a remade neighborhood square in Madisonville.

Under the proposed agreement, the Ackerman Group would buy the 7-acre site from the city with plans for two phases of housing and retail development. The first phase would include 200 apartments, 10,000 square feet of retail space, 15,000 square feet of office space and a 440-space parking garage. A second phase would add another 100 apartments and additional retail space. Cranley’s plan calls for the city to put up $4 million to cover improvements to public infrastructure that are part of the project.

“Every week we have people coming into our office asking about opening a business, but we don’t have any space to put them,” said Sara Sheets, executive director of the Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation. “We’re finally at the point that we think this is going happen, and it feels great because the people of Madisonville have been waiting a long time for this.”

Also part of Cranley’s plan, is a proposal that would secure the first phase of the proposed Wasson Way bike trail, planned to connect Xavier University through Hyde Park and connect eventually to the Loveland bike trail in Mariemont.

To get the project off the ground, Cranley’s budget calls for purchasing 4.1 miles of abandoned railway from Norfolk Southern for $11.75 million.  

Wasson Way Map

If all goes as planned, construction on the first leg of the bike path could begin as early as next summer.

“We know there has been tremendous support for this project,” said Susan Schaeffer, board chair of the nonprofit Wasson Way. “But when it actually does happens we’ll be ready to celebrate.” 

Where the Money is Coming From

All told, Cranley’s plan calls for up to $35 million to be invested into a series of neighborhood projects slated to be unveiled this week.

Money for the projects, Cranley told WCPO, is coming from two main sources: Money recovered from the sale of land part of the Blue Ash Airport and newly awarded tax credits.

Here’s a breakdown:

$25 million: Nearly a decade ago, the city Cincinnati sold 130 acres of land at Blue Ash Airport to the city of Blue Ash for roughly $37 million. At the time, city leaders said those dollars were to be used for neighborhood projects. However, the money was used instead to invest in the streetcar.

“That wasn’t smart,” Cranley said. “ I wasn’t for the streetcar, but the reason that wasn’t smart was because it tied up money that has flexibility other sources don’t have.”

For example, municipalities can’t use tax dollars to invest in private projects, but proceeds from land sales can be used.

Last year, when the city refinanced the streetcar debt at a lower interest rate — it not only saved the city money but it also freed up $25 million — money that Cranley says should be used for its original purpose: “Investing in our neighborhood.”

$10 million: Norfolk Southern is splitting tax credits they were awarded from the federal government for railway maintenance - yielding $10 million for the city. The two groups applied for the tax credits jointly. The rail company leases the city-owned line that runs to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it owns the unused rail line poised to become the Wasson Way bike trail. “It’s totally unexpected, and fortuitous” said Cranley of the tax credit award which has landed just as the city looks to buy the unused rail line from Norfolk.

What to Expect Next

Through Thursday, Cranley is planning a series of public events in other neighborhoods where he and community leaders expect to announce details about other projects that would benefit from his plan.

By Friday, Cranley says he expects present his full budget proposal to city council. For now, he says, he believes he has the backing from council to move the plan forward.

“I won’t speak for any council members, but I feel confident majority of them support these projects,” he said.
Last week, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black delivered his $1.1 billion budget plan to council.