The Triumph of Downtown Cincinnati

The following editorial was published in the Cincinnati Business Courier on January 6, 2011. UrbanCincy shared this story with its followers, and received a slew of requests to share the story in its entirety.

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Who would have figured, 10 or 20 years ago, that downtown Cincinnati would ever be described as “interesting” or “appealing”? A more oft-repeated characterization was that “they roll up the sidewalks at 6,” once the workday crowd headed off.

But local hotel and tourism officials are much more cheerful these days, according to our Insight focus on travel and hospitality this week. Senior Reporter Dan Monk writes that hotel occupancy in the central business district has jumped more than 20 percent since its low point in 2001, and convention business is booming.

And that’s because downtown Cincinnati isn’t what it used to be, in a good sort of way.

“There’s just more going on here,” says Wayne Bodington, general manager of the Westin Hotel, in Monk’s column.

Thousands crowd onto Fountain Square on December 31, 2011. Photograph by Thadd Fiala for UrbanCincy.

But while tourists seem to think that downtown Cincinnati is pretty lively, quite a few residents of Greater Cincinnati still cling to the notion that downtown is a dark and forbidding place, with empty streets, boarded-up buildings and flying bullets.

While the “empty streets” part once was true, at least in the evenings, downtown never was the desolate place some suburbanites envision; the number of Fortune 500 headquarters has always kept things humming, at least during the day.

And the business about high crime is illusionary – downtown has had exactly zero homicides in the past year, according to Cincinnati Police statistics. More likely people confuse downtown with the more crime-ridden neighborhoods of Over-the-Rhine and the West End, but even there, crime is decreasing.

In fact, according to the police department’s District One statistics, which include all three neighborhoods, violent crime is down 15 percent over the past two years, and property crimes have fallen 9 percent.

Cincinnati’s government is an ongoing magnet for insults, but the city deserves credit for what it’s done for downtown in the past 20 years. It kicked off the downtown living trend in the early 1990s, when it subsidized Towne Properties’ apartment projects on Garfield Place. And the formation of the public/private Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) speeded up the downtown living process, turned Fountain Square into an entertainment and restaurant venue, and began gentrifying large chunks of Over-the-Rhine.

Now, in the evenings, you can see people walking their dogs, crowding into bars and dancing to music on Fountain Square. That is, if you dare to come downtown.

It is the fate of Greater Cincinnati, and every sprawling American urban area, that some people live so far out in the suburbs that the city is nothing more to them than a mailing address.

And grumbling is part of Cincinnati’s culture, but why trash the city you call home, especially if you haven’t seen the center of it since the fountain was in the middle of Fifth Street and your mother took you Christmas shopping at Mabley & Carew and Pogue’s department stores?

Cincinnati will be hosting the World Choir Games this summer, bringing thousands of people into downtown and its environs. That would be a perfect time for entrenched suburbanites to make the day trip and see what Mr. Bodington is talking about, as well as participating in the festivities.

Or come down now, while you can ice skate on Fountain Square, and see what a difference a couple of decades can make.

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  • Biased crap

    This report was obviously written by a yup.

    Downtown is and always will be a cesspool

    • @Biased crap: This comment was clearly written by an anti-city zealot who will deny all positive changes in the city in spite of all facts.

  • Rob

    This kind of editorial, while boosterish, is important — as long as it is correct.

    I used to travel to the Cincinnati metro area for business, but I always ended up driving during my entire trip, except when I was in the office “park” which was more like a building surrounded by parking lots. As my clients never mentioned downtown Cinncy, and I was sick of driving and parking, I resolved never to return and would make any excuse to avoid a trip there.

    This article will make me re-think Cincinnati, and possibly return someday — if the client is located downtown. I love the streetcar plans, and the walkability sounds great. Is it bike-able too? Is there Bike Share? This future business traveler, and tourist, would like to know. Otherwise, I’ll go to more walkable places like Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, and DC.

  • @Rob: Yes, Cincinnati is very bikable and the city has been working diligently to improve its bicycling infrastructure and public policies. Take a look at some of the recent stories we have written about bicycling in Cincinnati to learn more:

    There is no bike sharing program as of yet, but it is probably just a matter of time given that Zipcar has now entered the Cincinnati market and the idea of sharing these types of items becomes more commonplace.

  • What? “downtown has had exactly zero homicides in the past year”?!?
    This kid died by gunshot:
    Right in the heart of Fountain Square.

  • J

    That was not a crime. The kid shot was by a police officer who was protecting himself, and the public. The criminal is dead. What’s the problem again?

  • @COAST look up the definition of homicide. It is impossible to deny downtown’s renaissance. Just look at rental occupancy and condo sales. I understand why COAST would oppose taxes and spending, but why the personal, visceral vendetta against young professionals and the urban core? One of the great mysteries of life I suppose. I do appreciate the link to a story about a local police officer doing his job to keep the streets safe. However, it makes no political point whatsoever. Any urban area has its rough spots and its challenges, but cesspool? Isn’t this your city too? If you live in the suburbs and don’t care about the city, fine, but why read urban blogs and denigrate the city we are trying to promote and improve?

  • And this hasn’t happened in a vacuum, I credit an influx of ever more connected, demanding vocal young people leading the charge.
    I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years look like, its going to be a wild ride.

    • Exactly. More people moving to the urban core is creating more demand for restaurants, grocery/convenience stores, and other essential businesses. The opening of these businesses makes downtown a more attractive place where even more people choose to live. And the neighborhood will continue to become even safer as more people move in — criminals want to hang out in abandoned alleyways, not lively streets full of people walking around.

  • Matthew Hall

    This is an economic story. Former Cincinnatians are resentful that they can’t figure out how to get a piece of the billions in new investment downtown and thus are attacking it. This is a class issue in many ways. The professional classes can and increasinlgy do take advantage of the professional and social opportunties downtown. It’s the middle-middle class, raising three kids on 45 to 65 thousand a year without a degree crowd that is attacking downtown. They don’t see jobs, investment opportunities or social offerings for them, so they defensively attack downtown as a sign of an increasingly unequal society that is shutting them out. In a sense, they are right. One of the professional class people making $100,000 can afford to spend 3 or 4 times on the plays, concerts, sporting events, restaurants, and nightclubs downtown that middle income people can. Some of the most highly paid jobs in the cincinnati region are based downtown. Professional class people value the chance to network with other high skill people and that has driven the concentration of high end corporate jobs downtown. Why else was convergys willing to give 14 million back to the city. Even with less subsidy, it’s still worth it to them. This is market forces at work and there is plenty more market forces yet to make themselves felt in a concentration of ‘creative class’ jobs in and near downtown.

  • Kudos to city officials and everyone who supports the city for staying the course despite daily attacks from the 700wlw/COASTer crowd.  Keep it up!  Your hard work is paying off

  • What happened to all the comments?

    • Many of our comments are temporarily missing while we transition over to the Disqus commenting system. They should reappear within the next 24 hours once the transition is complete.

  • The momentum in downtown and Over-the-Rhine is immense. Hopefully I can be a part of it moving forward.