CINCINNATI — Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a stop to numerous events from professional sporting games to concerts along with everyday activities like going out to eat.
But one thing that hasn’t skipped a beat: Downtown construction.
“One of the weird kind of things with COVID is, because there are fewer people down here right now, we’ve actually been able to move a lot more quickly on the construction of the space,” said Joe Rudemiller, vice president of marketing and communications for the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, also known as 3CDC.
Typically for Downtown rehab projects, the city has road closure restrictions in place for rush hour times. That means construction sites cannot close off certain lanes of traffic for work during those hours. Because fewer people are working and driving Downtown due to the pandemic, the city has opened up that restriction.
This has helped companies like 3CDC move forward more quickly and efficiently on projects in the urban core. The decrease in people Downtown also means more people will be surprised by the changes taking place when they return to their offices later this year.
“People who haven’t been Downtown for a while are going to come down and see this brand new space that they completely missed because they weren’t down here every day seeing it,” he said.
Rudemiller is talking about Court Street Plaza.
3CDC began construction on Court Street between Vine and Walnut streets in the fall and should complete the project in the spring. The project will transform the space into a festival-style plaza, making way for outdoor dining and entertainment.
“Court Street revitalization, we’re essentially re-imagining this space,” Rudemiller said. “It used to be two lanes, one in either direction and there was a median. After doing some serious community engagement and talking to a lot of stakeholders, what we decided to do was create a more pedestrian-friendly and civic space kind of feel.”
Court Street isn’t the only place being revamped during the pandemic.
“We are taking advantage of this time where a lot of people are not working Downtown right now because they’re trying to be safe and doing remote work, to dig up roads and really reinvent the fabric of our city,” said Mayor John Cranley.
Crews have completed the revitalization of Liberty Street, which included repaving the road, enhancing crosswalks, adding pedestrian refuge islands and bump-outs on the corners of major intersections.
Crews are currently tearing up sections of various roads throughout the city to build permanent outdoor dining spaces.
Projects that were just concrete and metal beams at the start of the pandemic — including the FC Cincinnati stadium and the Icon Music Center — are now built up into massive spaces.
Plans are also in motion to shut down parts of Freedom Way and make it a permanent pedestrian plaza. The goal is to have the space transformed by the spring, making the area the city’s first DORA, or designated outdoor refreshment area, by Reds Opening Day.
“This is really the front porch of our city, of our region," Cranley said in December. "And it’s forever going to be the place where tourists and people come."
Cranley has said that when folks return to working downtown post-pandemic, they’ll be returning to an entirely new Downtown.
“Absolutely,” he said.
3CDC also is working on several other projects that will change the landscape of Downtown, including The Foundry, a mixed-used space on Fountain Square.
The $51 million project will convert the old Macy’s building into restaurant, retail and office space. The building will be wrapped entirely in glass, making it feel connected to Fountain Square across Vine Street.
“Once we have a spot right here on the corner with people dining outside, I think it’ll really feel as if it’s just kind of a continuation of one space into the next," Rudemiller said. "So I think they’re really going to feed off each other."
Phase 1 of that project will be complete this summer.
Meanwhile, dozens of new apartments are under construction throughout the city, including Willkommen, a 3CDC project that’ll rehab 16 historic buildings and infill four vacant lots with new buildings. All together, that project will create 163 new units in Over-the-Rhine, with 69 of them being affordable units.
“It’s going to be a new energy, and it’s going to look like a new Downtown urban core,” Rudemiller said.