Two Big Ideas to Bring Cincinnati’s Urban Housing Boom to Next Level

It has become painfully clear that we are not building enough housing supply to meet demand for center city living. In order to meet those demands, and prevent runaway price increases, now is the time to go big and develop thousands of more units.

In 2014, CBRE released a study about the strength of Cincinnati’s urban real estate market, and noted that the center city housing market could support thousands of additional residential units, even as 2,500 were under development at that time.

This was reinforced by CBRE’s economic outlook for the region released just days ago that said, “The multifamily recovery continues with unabated strength in the Cincinnati MSA with strong demand fundamentals pushing rents higher.” With occupancy hovering around 95% and the strongest demand in the urban core, their real estate analysts expect rents to continue to rise.

As of now, 3CDC is virtually sold out of all of their condos, luxury apartment buildings are being filled in a matter of weeks, and a parade of home builders continues to redirect their attention to the market. But it has not been nearly enough.

While 3CDC has done an incredible job at establishing a viable residential market in Over-the-Rhine, they have only produced a few hundred units over the past decade. Bigger projects in the central business district are turning historic office towers into posh residences, but are doing so at about 100 units per project. Even the long-planned residential tower at Fourth and Race Streets will only include 208 units once it is complete several years from now.

The rate of production at The Banks, which is by far the largest development in the center city, only averages out to a couple dozen units per year when you consider the time it continues to take to build out that massive undertaking.

Something bigger is needed. Something much bigger. Here are two options.

City Hall Quarters
Cincinnati’s majestic City Hall is unfortunately surrounded by decrepit, low-slung parking garages and a smattering of parking lots. The area’s proud history, however, can still be seen by taking a leisurely walk along Ninth Street. There, one can view the regal structures that were the original homes of Cincinnati’s economic and political elite.

Just around the corner, however, is a collection of parking lots controlled by collection of different limited liability companies. The original owner of the lots, if it is different from now, had long-planned to build offices on the site similar in nature to what was developed on its north side along Central Parkway. That building was completed in 1983, and times have certainly changed since then.

The large collection of parking lots allows for a unique opportunity to create a residential sub-district within the central business district. Look to Atlanta’s West Midtown, Chicago’s South Loop or Denver’s Cherry Creek District of examples of the type of development that could rise here.

Its density would respect its historic surroundings, but its scale could provide hundreds of residential units. Instead of lining each street with retail, thoughtfully placed corner markets and cafes could be placed intermittently in order to maintain a residential character for the sub-district.

CL&N Heights
Like its Broadway Commons neighbor to the north, this area was once part of the large warehouse district that previously occupied the site with the CL&N Railway. Those proud buildings, and the history that went along with them, are now largely gone and have been replaced by I-71. There are, however, some of the historic warehouse structures that can still be seen in the Eighth Street Design District and immediately to the south.

This collection of parking lots is largely out of site since they sit beneath I-71 and at a lower grade than the rest of the central business district. Procter & Gamble currently owns the vast majority of the site, but Eagle Realty has recently acquired some land with the interest of building a parking structure along with some office space.

Unlike the City Hall Quarters site, this location has an opportunity to go even bigger.

In order to properly develop the location, it would make most sense to raise the site up to the same level as the rest of the surrounding street grid. This would essentially create a situation akin to The Banks, where two or so levels of parking could be built as a platform, with the structures then rising from there.

Instead of building four- to five-story structures, like at The Banks or near City Hall, this site would be an ideal location for a handful of sleek, modern residential high-rises. In this case, think of Vancouver’s Yaletown or San Diego’s East Village near their ballpark.

In this location it is conceivable that four to five residential towers could be constructed, while also preserving some land for pocket parks and other neighborhood amenities. At such a scale and density, this site alone could produce upwards of a thousand residential units.

Like the City Hall Quarters site, there would be no strong need to build retail as part of this project. Instead, a small collection of service offerings, like dry cleaners and convenience stores, could be built as part of the development, thus allowing the new influx of residents to bolster the existing and potential retail offerings in the central business district and Over-the-Rhine.

Both development sites include their challenges, but they offer immense opportunities to not only provide the much-needed injection of housing, but also improve the city’s tax base, hold down skyrocketing residential prices, bolster center city retail, and rid the city of two of its largest-remaining surface parking lots.

  • Yaletown, how cool would that look driving south on 71?
    Also I can’t wait for a couple towers to go up on those two huge lots at Court and Walnut.

    • EDG

      If you can get people to live there without the water. Looks more like the sawyer point/riverside drive area

    • Mark Christol

      rebuild the canal

    • At one point I looked at a concept of rebuilding the canal along Eggleston to connect to the river and to an inland marina that would be built at Broadway Commons and surrounded by new development. Obviously the casino approval squashed that idea.

    • BillCollins45227

      Roger Ach proposed this idea about 20 years ago, but was laughed at. He was right.

    • I was not aware of that. Who is Roger, and do you know what he’s up to now?

    • BillCollins45227

      Roger Ach, at one time, owned a company called Chicago West Pullman Company which operated a group of short-time railroads. Roger lived in Walnut Hills at one time, but I’m not sure where he lives now. You can find him on the Internet. His proposal was to turn the southern portion of the old Miami & Erie Canal — along Central Parkway’s east/west section and allow Eggleston Avenue to the Ohio River — into a canal around which development would be built.

      His plan was quite visionary, and got a lot of publicity at the time. However, it was dismissed at the time by the powers that be because, I suppose, so little investment was happening Downtown at the time. I used to see Roger at the Williams YMCA. He’s a good guy.

    • Vancouver’s center city is more or less surrounded by water, so everything has views of that and the spectacular mountain ranges in the distance. With that said, I’m not sure that’s necessarily why people live there. It certainly doesn’t hurt though.

  • EDG

    I think both ideas are appropriate for each area to repair the damage done by the highways, with the mid rises around city hall as a good transition to the west end townhomes and otr. As far as increasing population, the price point on all of the new construction multifamily is ridiculous and there will be a point when there aren’t enough executives willing to pay $1400+/month to rent. I would stay on track with the missing middle housing types presented in the FBC. You can still get great density while encouraging people to buy and be invested long-term in an area.

  • David Cole

    I strongly agree with all of this. It’s crazy that housing prices in such a concentrated area are approaching New York levels due to lack of supply while there are so many opportunities for new development. There should be a half-dozen residential high-rises under construction right now.

    Another benefit of the CL&N Heights option is that Eggleston Avenue, which is very wide with a large median but with relatively light traffic, could serve as an ideal light rail connection between the Riverfront Transit Center and the existing subway tunnels, I-71 corridor, and/or Mt. Auburn tunnel serving Uptown.

    • When you take a walk down on Culvert you notice just how quiet it is, and how if developed properly could really be a lovely area.

  • Joshua Osborn Michaels

    Your ideas for the area by 71/471 are very much inline with how I’ve always envisioned that space eventually being used. A high density, high rise filled neighborhood leading out to the riverfront. This is one of the sites with the most potential to create a dramatic change in our urban fabric.

  • matimal

    Randy’s ideas are exactly what Cincinnati needs, but the reason Cincinnati doesn’t have them is not because there aren’t people who want them, it’s because there are people who don’t want them. They are in city and county government, they are land owners and members of various ‘old boys clubs’ that exist for the purpose of preventing change. It isn’t that people haven’t thought of doing what Randy describes, it’s that there is a band of people deeply committed to stopping them. Defeat them, and you clear the field for what Randy describes.

  • Neil Clingerman

    The only issue I could see with the “CL&N Heights” district is Mt Adams folks complaining about loosing their views. I wonder if that’s a reason for it not being redeveloped?

    • charles ross

      A few 20 story high rises, especially good looking ones, that are a quarter mile away would still be part of a nice view from up Rookwood way. If they on the far side of I-71, I don’t think you risk blocking much unless they are as tall and wide as the Robby Robot building.

  • Brian Boland

    Great article. All up Central Parkway could be redeveloped. And there are several other areas like this where “urban renewal” bulldozed whole blocks of the city. I know it’s not close to the CBD (but it could be a streetcar trip away) but Lower Price hill is another area still relatively in tact and ripe for development. If they hadn’t torn down so many of the old warehouses who knows, maybe we could have had our own ‘warehouse district’.

    • EDG

      The area around city hall doesn’t seem to have suffered from urban renewal as much as just a slow death due to proximity to the 8th St I-75 on ramp and allowing small parking lots here and there over time that add up to more parking than buildings north of city hall.

    • EDG

      The area south of Turner Construction is one of the worst in the CBD

    • Neil Clingerman

      There still is a pretty good collection of Warehouses in Camp Washington and the West End that are ripe for redevelopment.

  • thebillshark

    Anything along Eggleston would be such a short walk/ bike ride to Sawyer Point! (Or the casino I suppose)

  • Mark Francis Kinne

    Cl&n heights is a bit clunky. I’d go with Bucktown instead (the original name of the neighborhood). View preservation would be a concern as would integrating it into downtown with the grade change. Creative designs could be used (public semi-enclosed or outdoor escalators anyone?). It might also be cool to see an incline or gondola connect this area to mt Adams. I completely agree about the area around city hall and queens gate should be added to your list. The challenge is getting developers to take the huge risks these big projects can create.

    • Fantastic idea on the Bucktown name. I should have thought of that. 🙂

    • Bucktown is awesome!

    • BillCollins45227

      Bucktown has great potential. Not only is it located near Lytle Park, the Taft Museum, the casino and and the P&G and Western-Southern centers, but capital is already flowing into that area.

      From the announcement we saw a few weeks ago from Rick Griewe, it’s clear that he and his partners at Western-Southern/North American properties are planning to make major investment in this area. In his statement, Rick talked about building in areas on the eastern side of Downtown (and I assume extending into Bucktown) where surface parking lots dominate today.

      I love the idea you advanced of creating dense urban development along the western side of Downtown. But, the truth is that because of racism, the capital is more likely to flow first and fastest towards the “white” east (near P&G and closer to Mount Adams) than to the “black” west (towards the West End and Queensgate). With propert planning (and, unfortunately, the usual tax giveaways) capital might be lured west, but they will go east first because big capital in Cincinnati lives on the East Side and follows the maxim, “Go east, young man.”

  • Brad McLaughlin

    All great ideas.
    Not that I know…well anything about the structural chops for the Ft Wash Way caps, but I always thought residential towers there, with some interesting architecutre, maybe even connect them over the north/south streets

  • EDG

    Even at the pace of hi rise construction in Chicago, they will only have 6000 more new units this year. The best option is to always fill in the housing we already have, especially in less desirable areas.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Thanks for the article. Sam Zell is one of Chicago’s biggest Real Estate Titans (he even owns the Chicago Tribune) he’s definitely a leader in the industry and has broad influence.

      One more detail, 6,000 units is just referring to The Loop (Chicago’s Downtown), There are highrises also being constructed in “near-loop” neighborhoods that in other cities would probably be considered downtown such as Streeterville, River North, River West, West Loop and the South Loop to name a few – I’m sure when you add them all up its more than 6,000 units (Plus the loop really doesn’t have as many surface lots to grow into as those other areas).

  • akaPatience

    Your idea for the Eggleston area is well-considered in the sense that anything built there would have to be hi-rise atop enough levels of parking to raise it out of the shadows and well-above the drone of highway noise and the visual eyesore of constantly-moving traffic. IMO these conditions have been big problems for the nearby Palisades condos in Mt. Adams. Noise and traffic could be even worse for anything along parts of Eggleston that wasn’t high enough. While the views can be quite dramatic from that perspective, the constant motion of interstate traffic is a visual problem when in close proximity to it. I’ve been in the Palisades a couple of times and I really believe both of those conditions are why the project has been a rare failure in the Mt. Adams market.

  • TimSchirmang

    What’s keeping developers from breaking ground on these opportunities?

  • Chas Wiederhold

    In addition to these neighborhoods, we must not forget western Newport and western Covington.