Developers, business owners, community groups and residents gathered Oct. 26 at Memorial Hall to take part in an annual forum sponsored by Friends of Findlay Market. More than 100 people heard speakers discuss their "Visions for the Findlay Market Neighborhood" along with current projects and programs considered vital to the area's rebirth.
John Kornbluh, president of Friends of Findlay Market, set the tone by addressing the staying power of the market along with its rich 153-year history. He said that vendors and shoppers don't measure their time in years but instead in decades and generations.
"This new generation of Friends of Findlay Market has been at it for 10 years," he said. "It's something that we're committed to, being engaged in slow, patient, steady work that it takes to revitalize Findlay Market."
Bring back the thousands
The evening covered a number of successful nonprofit projects already in the works, including Smart Money's home ownership program for residents of Over-the-Rhine, which helps low-income residents save for a home by teaching them how to manage their money (see "Dollars and Sense," issue of Nov. 25-Dec. 2, 2003). While helping many, the agency is barely scratching the surface due to constant competition from predatory lenders such as check cashing businesses, pawn shops and loan sharks, according to Smart Money President Darrick Dansby.
Margery Spinney of Cornerstone Community Loan Fund spoke about renting to own at St. Anthony Village (see All the News That Fits, issue of July 20-26). The program allows low-income, long-term renters to earn equity credits that add up to a cash payment after five years.
The popular project currently has a long waiting list and virtually no turnover by satisfied residents who, Spinney said, keep the area immaculate.
"I think it's the foundation for change in Findlay Market," she said. "I believe people who need better equity will go into an area where other people won't. They will move in and make that community better because they want to live there after it's changed."
As part of visions for the future, Andy Hutzel, director of the Race Street Tenants Organizing Collective (ReStoc), spoke about mixed-income housing south of Liberty Street, an eight-block area of sustainable housing designed by a team of students at Miami University and UC. In the plan, 25 percent of the housing will go to those making $65,000 or more, 25 percent to those making from $39,000 to $65,000 and the remaining 50 percent to those making below $39,000. For the matrix to be successful, demographics must remain close to those numbers to accommodate low-income families who will continue to reside in the neighborhood, Hutzel said.
ReStoc volunteer Mike Moroski said the organization has helped make small but noticeable changes to the community.
"I have a vested interest in this area of town and this neighborhood, its longevity and its future," he said.
The Rev. Damon Lynch III, pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church and a candidate for Cincinnati City Council, talked about bringing African food, clothes and music to Elm Street. Creating a cultural district will not only deter crime and allow citizens of Over-the-Rhine to take pride in their heritage but will also bring people back to the area to live, he said.
"Fifty thousand people alone have left Over-the-Rhine," Lynch said. "That tells you this community can have a rebirth and can afford an influx of 20,000 people."
Glaserworks architect Michael Moose rounded out the visionaries, portraying his version of "Loft Living in the Brewery District." The plan includes condominium-style housing located nearby and above businesses and a streetcar system linking Over-the-Rhine to downtown and Clifton.
Off the scanner
Throughout the evening, the inevitable mention of the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) evoked audience reaction mostly in the form of sighs and snickers (see "Taking Over the Park," issue of July 14-20, 2004). The organization has come under fire from a number of community groups in response to its ambitious plan for gentrifying Over-the-Rhine, including multimillion-dollar condominiums and removing slum and blight conditions from the Washington Park area, a well-known refuge for Cincinnati's homeless.
Dan Hurley, a reporter for WKRC (Channel 12), moderated the discussion and infused the evening with some levity, commending speakers for limiting their five-minute speeches to about six and a half minutes. He also conducted an open discussion that primarily generated questions about planning and the proposed streetcar system.
Hurley responded to several complaints that the media have tarnished the image of Over-the-Rhine by reporting only negative stories.
"It's breaking news at 11 p.m.," he said. "Most of the time, if it's not on the police scanner, we don't hear about it. If there's something positive going on in the community, you have to let us know."
While the forum encouraged attendance by Over-the-Rhine residents, only a few took part. Lynch noted that the demographics of the primarily white audience didn't truly represent that of the neighborhood, which is 86 percent African-American.
Carrie Johnson, former president of Over-the-Rhine Community Council, attended with her sister, Annabelle Johnson. The two have lived in the neighborhood for more than 25 years and continue to be catalysts for change.
Both sisters said they spend an abundance of time at Findlay Market, browsing, socializing or simply enjoying the Sunday entertainment after leaving church.
"Oh Lord yes, there's been a great deal of improvement to the market," Carrie Johnson said. "I'm there just about every day. I may not buy anything, but I'm there every day." ©