As usual, clowns have the right idea: Pile 'em all in a small vehicle and rattle around town for a few hours.
A charter bus, 50 people and a few hours circling through Over-the-Rhine seemed a quick way to boost the awareness and maybe the cooperation of the many organizations trying to revitalize affordable and market-rate housing while preserving the neighborhood's historic architecture.
Patricia Garry, executive director of the Community Development Corporations Association of Greater Cincinnati, organized and led this year's annual Community Development Bus Tour, which kicked off just after noon on Oct. 22 at 12th and Jackson streets.
Changing 'the spooky side'
When the bus pulled up to Findlay Market, Bob Pickford boarded to address the developers, consultants, bankers and investors, city officials and many others finishing cookies from their box lunches.
The market's revitalization began in 1995, according to Pickford, president of the Corporation for Findlay Market, a nonprofit management company. The Farmers Market opened in 1999, and the renovation of the Market House wrapped up last year.
But it quickly became clear that the market itself couldn't ignore all the development issues around it, Pickford said.
"We call the south side of the market the 'spooky' side of the market," he said.
That's why the Corporation for Findlay Market recently joined with the University of Cincinnati, the Uptown Consortium and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) to ask the city to grant it "preferred developer status" for the market district.
The properties abandoned by failed developers Scheer & Scheer, the former Globe Furniture building and an old Deveroes store top Pickford's list of buildings that are critical to the market's future.
Pickford envisions a thriving market district of 60 to 100 small businesses that together can compete with big box stores. He hopes to lure a bakery and a wine shop, and there's some talk of a Sam Adams watering hole.
Paula's Café opened for lunch a month ago, and a housewares shop opens next April. The market area went WiFi thanks to Project Lily Pad (see All the News That Fits, issue of June 22-28).
But as it stands, the market is only at 64 percent capacity and there's still resistance to the Sunday business hours implemented not long ago.
"Businesses are not lining up and banging on the door to come down to Over-the-Rhine at this point," Pickford said.
There was no mention of the Rev. Damon Lynch III's proposal for an African corridor in the Findlay Market area.
The bus then stopped briefly at the City Lofts on Dunlap Street, where developer Greg Badger explained that four of the six units in the converted furniture manufacturing building at 1908 Dunlap have already sold.
Some buyers were lured by the European lifestyle of walking to Findlay Market to pick out the night's dinner, while others must be banking on the area's imminent renaissance. Badger said one new condo owner hopes to turn a profit in two years.
City Lofts is the first market-rate condominium project north of Liberty Street, though a 98-condo project is in the works for the old Christian Moerlein brewery building, according to Badger.
Red magic and beer bottles
The tour then rolled on to St. Anthony Village, a cluster of buildings inside Republic, Liberty, Race and Pleasant streets that are united by a fenced-in courtyard and a renters equity program that gives low-income tenants a stake in their housing.
By taking care of their apartments and pitching in for communal maintenance, low-income renters can earn $5,000 after five years and up to $10,000 in equity by their 10th year of residency (see All the News That Fits, issue of July 20-26).
Margie Spinney, director of Cornerstone Community Loan Fund and founder of the renters equity program, interpreted for the tourists.
"Think about a market for new housing that's kind of in-between renting and owning," she said. "We think this is the needed interim step. These people are a stable, working people."
Renters equity has been such a hit that the Over-the-Rhine Housing Network (OTRHN) is implementing the program in its new six-building Community Views project. Though the 12 units aren't even finished yet, they're all spoken for, while other hopeful renters wait on a list.
Mary Burke, OTRHN's director, led a tour through the apartments next to Tucker's Restaurant at 1639 Vine St. A red-and-white checked stairway opened onto an airy apartment with a deep red linoleum floor, dark wood cabinets and a black-topped kitchen island.
"The architects didn't want it to look like affordable housing, and we didn't either," Burke said.
"It's amazing what a little color will do," said Marge Hammelrath, executive director of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation.
Further on, the busload crowded into the new Venice Pizza joint. When the Power Inspires Progress work training program and the restaurant it ran was forced from its McMicken Avenue location, they lucked out with a spot at 1301 Vine St.
UC and Miami University students pitched in to design the new Venice Pizza space, which features painstakingly artful tile floors, wooden walls and cabinets and a sign fashioned from backlit aluminum pop cans and clear beer bottles. Venice Pizza is slated to open by Christmas.
Andy Hutzel, director of ReStoc, told the group the agency is shifting focus from single resident occupancy supportive housing for formerly homeless men and women to housing for low-income families. ReStoc's pending merger with OTRHN will boost both organizations' staff capacity, resources and impact. ReStoc has also been working with 3CDC.
Every presenter seemed committed to blurring the lines between affordable and market-rate housing, especially aesthetic divisions. Bobby Maly of Model Group's property development arm said the massive development and property management company takes pride in giving its affordable housing the same finishing touches as its market-rate apartments, such as ceramic tile and teak hardwood floors.
By this point in the tour a laid-back, jovial Stephen Leeper, president of 3CDC, had joined up. He said 3CDC is working with several small entrepreneurial developers to rehab about a dozen buildings around Vine and 12th streets, at a total cost of $13.5 million to $15 million.
Each redeveloped building will feature ground-floor commercial space and condos ranging from $80,000 to $200,000. Of the 60 housing units, about 10 will be rental, some possibly to space-crunched Art Academy students. Leeper hopes to start construction in January 2006 and finish within the year.
The tour traipsed through a decrepit building next to the former Glossinger's carryout on 12th Street. A massive staircase curves up to a skylight that once shepherded daylight through a clean pane in the floor onto the storefront below.
"These buildings tell the story," Leeper said. "We're gonna lose them if we don't watch out."
The tour ended at the Art Academy, where President Greg Smith introduced the building while the community development tourists munched on hors d'oeuvres fittingly served up by Jeremy and Collette Thompson, who recently bought and reopened Kaldi's Coffeehouse. ©