College Hill seemed to be celebrating the beginning of the end May 4.
At a ribbon cutting for a newly completed streetscape project, community activists marked the end of long years of planning and the beginning of a spate of visible, material improvements to their neighborhood.
Cincinnati Fire Department Engine 51 showed up, as did all five Democratic city council members.
All in all, about 100 people turned out to listen to the House of Joy Christian Ministries Chorus and a string of speakers praising College Hill's newly paved streets and new streetlights, tree grates, parking meters and street signs.
"It's kind of like when you get a new dress or a new suit, you feel really good about yourself," said Gayla Price, president of the College Hill Business Association. "We've got brand new streets and new lamp posts and we feel really good about ourselves."
The date of the ribbon cutting was set to coincide with the opening day of the 2005 College Hill Gardeners Farm Market, which will sell locally grown produce and flowers on the corner of Hamilton and Llanfair avenues from 3-7 p.m. every Tuesday through October.
The city of Cincinnati has taken its lumps for a dysfunctional development department, but in this case it's done right by College Hill. In a marked departure from most city council meetings, speakers heaped praise on helpful city officials, especially Tom Jackson, the Community Development and Planning Department official who headed up the College Hill project.
"I can't tell you how many naysayers said, 'Don't count on the city,' " said Elizabeth Sherwood, president of College Hill Forum.
In this case they were proven wrong, she said.
The streetscape project received $1.5 million in city funding through a Cincinnati Neighborhood Business Districts United grant. Then College Hill was one of four neighborhoods to receive a Clean and Safe Neighborhood grant to set up a camera surveillance system along Hamilton Avenue.
College Hill recently received another $300,000 for a program to revamp building facades along about a mile of Hamilton Avenue, according Dr. Pamela Menges, spokeswoman for the College Hill Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CHURC).
Vice Mayor Alicia Reece read a city proclamation naming the day College Hill Day.
"Once we get the corner of Hamilton and North Bend done, we're gonna need a whole week," she said.
Reece was referring to Linden Park Commons, the mixed-use housing, retail and entertainment development that's set to take over three corners of College Hill's busiest intersection at Hamilton Avenue and North Bend Road.
Right now those lifeless corner lots feature the hulking shells of a CVS Pharmacy, Kroger grocery and Shuller's Wigwam restaurant.
CHURC recently chose big-name local developer Al Neyer, Inc. for the project. Marty Weldishofer, CHURC's interim director of development, told the assembled crowd that he hoped to submit a project proposal to city council within six weeks and to have a groundbreaking ceremony sometime this year, even if that means on New Year's Eve he has to provide the hats for a bring-your-own-shovel party, he said.
The years of patient, hard work have paid off so well that CHURC was asked to present a "best practices" workshop at this year's city-sponsored neighborhood summit. Just three days later CHURC celebrated its 30th year as the oldest redevelopment corporation in Ohio.
Even as all their careful plans take form, College Hill's activists refuse to cease their incessant planning. Next up: a documentary on the redevelopment process to be produced by Media Bridges in time to celebrate College Hill's bicentennial — in 2013.
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