Uptown Cincinnati is like a funky band of neighborhoods – Avondale, Clifton, Clifton Heights, Corryville, Fairview, Mount Auburn and University Heights – and in the right spots you'll see vibrancy, potential and even a little charm. But like in so many areas of the urban core, other parts are run down, prone to violence and just a little bit scary.
Uptown Cincinnati is home to some of the city's largest employers, best known attractions and entertainment spots. You'll find the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Zoo and Cincinnati Children's Hospital as well as the Esquire Theatre, Bogart's and The Mad Frog. But several of these neighborhoods have their fair share of dilapidated buildings and small business loss over the years.
It was the convergence of Uptown's ups and downs that lead to a concerted effort by the area's biggest stakeholders to build on each neighborhood's assets and revitalize one of the region's largest employment and entertainment centers (80,000 people work there). The nonprofit Uptown Consortium has promoted the revitalization of these urban neighborhoods since 2004.
While the consortium's efforts have had some stops and starts, today the partnership has momentum. And through the leadership of new President Beth Robinson, the consortium will continue its leadership role in making sure Uptown lives up to its potential as a vibrant center of city life.
Robinson was named president in June. She'd served as interim president since November of 2009, on loan from UC, where she was director of real estate development for two-and-a-half years.
She's spent much of her time continuing to forge partnerships to jumpstart redevelopment and promoting new community activities. The consortium board is made up of representatives from the area's largest employers: Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, The Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati, TriHealth Inc. and UC.
"A lot of what I do is interact with the consortium on various activities and with the surrounding neighborhoods to address some of the needs and activities that are going on," Robinson says.
The consortium does more than talk about development; it's put big dollars behind it. In 2006 the consortium closed a $52 million New Markets Tax Credit Fund that funded approximately $35 million in project investments and has leveraged well over $125 million in project investments across Uptown.
Robinson has more than 25 years of experience in development and has spent a lot of time working in urban areas in the Greater Cincinnati region. Before coming to UC, she was director of business retention and attraction for the City of Covington, as well as economic director for the City of Springdale. She also worked for the City of Cincinnati in various positions managing a number of real estate development projects.
Robinson is a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) and holds a Certified Economic Development Finance Professional designation from the National Development Council. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in Public Administration at UC.
Uptown has a lot to look forward to these days, especially the Short Vine area, Robinson says. Some of the most immediate and dramatic changes are going on in Corryville around UC, including construction of a new 132-room Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel and 219-car public garage at
Martin Luther King Drive and Vine Streetthat's set to open by December. A long-awaited new Kroger will replace the current store at University Plaza off Short Vine, doubling the current store's size to 65,000 feet.
Then there's Short Vine itself. The former entertainment and culture hotbed has deteriorated since its hip heyday in the '80s, but through a partnership of the Vine Street Business Association and the Uptown Consortium new signs of life are popping up. The consortium is helping organize Bearcat Block Parties during UC home football games. And an art walk is set for Oct. 2 in partnership with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, which will be hanging art instillations along Short Vine.
The city's streetcar line that will link uptown and downtown is coming right up Vine Street to end (at least temporarily) at the University Plaza area.
"I think we are poised right now to really turn the corner on Short Vine," Robinson says. “The interest that we've received from developers, the business community and residents is just really encouraging. There is a lot of historical affection for Short Vine.”
Jeanne Golliher, president and CEO of the Cincinnati Development Fund, has high praise for Robinson's experience and work ethic. CDF has worked with the consortium to finance at least 10 projects, including the Hampton Inn.
"She is efficient and highly organized," Golliher says. “She is great at bring people together and uniting them behind a common vision. Beth by nature is a collaborator and someone who dedicated to the mission. She is just about rolling up her sleeves and getting the job done quietly and competently."