BBC spotlights Liberty and Elm project to ask if OTR is 'a model' or 'a warning sign'

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Posted at 2:23 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-22 14:37:11-05

CINCINNATI — A report posted Sunday by the BBC brought international attention to a controversial development project underway in Over-the-Rhine, zeroing in on a "furious debate" decades in the making about the storied and historic neighborhood and its ongoing transformation.

In an article headlined, "Over-the-Rhine: Is this a model for urban renewal or a warning sign?" journalist and author Stephen Starr walks readers through the neighborhood's recent history, in which hundreds of millions of dollars in reinvestment have brought varying impacts, depending on whom one asks.

The article starts with the stark reminder that, in April, it will have been 20 years since Cincinnati police patrolman Stephen Roach shot and killed unarmed 19-year-old Timothy Thomas.

"The anger fuelled by his death resulted in some of the worst rioting the country experienced since the Los Angeles unrest of 1992, and led to millions of dollars in property damage," Starr wrote.

Starr uses Thomas' death as a launchpad to explore what over the last two decades has proved to be a chronic dilemma: How can a city revitalize a neighborhood without displacing the people -- especially those most vulnerable to hardship -- who have called it home, some for generations?

The most recent episode of this drama concerns the $77 million development of a vacant site at the northwest corner of Liberty and Elm streets.

Earlier this month, Cincinnati City Council spent days debating its role in ensuring new developments provide affordable housing and other forms of mutual aid for the surrounding neighborhood.

While City Council ultimately approved the project without an affordable housing provision, the debate resulted in one council member filing a motion to require that major housing developments provide affordable housing units.

Another council member since has proposed a "scorecard" to ensure projects that receive tax incentives and other government assistance meet certain criteria.

Starr spoke with OTR Community Council president Maurice Wagoner about the project, who called it "just the latest example of local black families being left behind and excluded."

The article also points to persistent housing blight, the closing of the Vine Street Kroger in 2019, construction of the nearby FC Cincinnati stadium and the surge in short-term rental properties to demonstrate, as Wagoner is quoted saying, "The people here...can't be a part of what they see going on in the neighbourhood."

Read Starr's full report for BBC here.