National Citizen Survey Shows Perceptions of Hamilton Continue To Improve

With the recent announcements of two major new employers, London-based Barclaycard and Colorado-based StarTek, bringing hundreds of new jobs to Hamilton, it may come as no surprise that the city performed comparatively well on the 2015 National Citizen Survey.

Made available to residents in nearly 550 other localities throughout the United States, the NCS is considered by most counties and municipalities as the standard-bearer for collecting meaningful qualitative data and providing informative, actionable feedback.

At the survey’s conclusion, each participating community received an in-depth report that summarized their residents’ responses in three areas: community characteristics, governance and participation. In aggregate, these are compiled to give a general overview of the community’s livability and quality of life. Embedded within this, the questions collect residents’ thoughts about eight key aspects that are central to any community: safety, mobility, the natural environment, the built environment, recreation/wellness, education/enrichment, and community engagement.

While the comparison to other communities is certainly useful, what’s most telling is how the Hamilton of today compares to the Hamilton of its not-so-distant past.

When lined up against its results from the 2011 NCS, the city saw positive gains in a nearly two-thirds of the survey. Not only did the city improve upon those areas where it had been lagging for decades, it also continued to bolster its status as a high-quality, cost-effective producer of public utilities and public goods.

From its best-tasting water, its increased hydroelectric energy production, to its publicly accessible natural-gas station (the first and only in Greater Cincinnati); Hamilton has proven that it is indeed possible to effectively provide public services through economically uncertain times.

It wasn’t all great news, however, with some of the lowest scores falling within the realm of transportation. In particular, few residents responded positively to questions about public transit and traffic flow, both of which have been notoriously subpar for a city of Hamilton’s size. By comparison, nearby Middletown, which is smaller than Hamilton, has had direct access to Interstate 75 and its own four-line public bus system for decades.

Within the city proper, there are only three bridges that connect the city across the Great Miami River within the city proper, all of which carry local roads. Further complicating this is Hamilton’s lack of any highway-grade road infrastructure of any significance as well as numerous at-grade railroad crossings on both sides of the river.

The city is attempting to address some of these transportation issues by moving forward with the $29 million South Hamilton Crossing project, while also lobbying to restore regular passenger rail service.

Public transit of any kind is non-existent in Hamilton, which only frustrates this situation even more. In response to this, city leaders say that they are working to improve relationships with Butler County and other entities within the county, including Middletown and Miami University, to improve public transit offerings.

In particular, the Butler County Regional Transit Authority has essentially absorbed operation of what had been independent bus services in Middletown and Oxford in order to build connectivity among the county’s population centers. BCRTA also maintains routes to West Chester and Tri-County Mall in coordination with Cincinnati’s Metro bus system.

Hamilton Earning National Praise For Its Smart Growth Development Approach

Last month, the City of Hamilton was recognized for its built projects by the US EPA as one of three National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement in 2015.

The awards are given annually to three local government entities that embody the spirit of smart growth by embracing policies and strategies that re-utilize existing infrastructure, protect the environment, provide inclusive mixed-income housing, and strengthen local economies.

In the selection process, Hamilton was specifically singled out for a public-private partnership with Historic Developers, LLC that resulted in three redevelopment and preservation projects. This included Mercantile Lofts, Hamilton’s first new downtown housing in decades, and the conversion of the Journal-News’ former offices into an arts and dance studio that now houses the Miami Valley Ballet Theatre.

Officials say that the partnership leveraged just over $17 million to spark an additional $15 million in investment at adjacent properties.

Over the past five years, these initial projects have been a part of more than $65 million in direct investment, by both local and regional developers, along downtown Hamilton’s High Street corridor.

This award follows numerous others that have been given to the city by other organizations, including the International Economic Development Council’s Excellence in Economic Development awards in 2013 and 2014.

The other two cities recognized in this year’s National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement were Newark, NJ for its revitalized riverfront park, and Jackson, TN for its Jackson Walk mixed-use development in its completely rebuilt downtown district.

Hamilton Looking For Public Input on Annual Action Plan

Hamilton OHThe City of Hamilton is seeking input from the general public as it prepares its Annual Action Plan for 2016-17 for grants received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The funds are disbursed to localities throughout the country to help address the needs of low- to moderate-income residents. Some of the programs that are funded fully or in part by these HUD grants include youth services, elderly services, transportation improvements, neighborhood stabilization programs, crime prevention, job training, and much more.

Hamilton qualifies for support due to its higher-than-average poverty rate (22.9%) and its lower-than-average homeownership rate (56.5%).

If you currently live or work, have ever lived or worked, or just generally care about the future of Hamilton, city officials are hoping to get your input on how these resources should be used.

In particular, the 15-question survey asks about the state of housing maintenance, balance of rental and owner-occupied housing, public transportation, social services, historic preservation, infrastructure, and economic development strategies.

The survey takes only a few minutes to complete, and all responses, including those to demographic questions, are kept anonymous and confidential. Any questions should be directed to John Creech at Hamilton’s Department of Community Development at 513-785-7350 or creechj@ci.hamilton.oh.us.

$8.5M East High Gateway Project to be Completed This Summer

Over the past 15 years, the City of Hamilton has sought to beautify its inner-city by reconstructing the High-Main Street corridor. Along the way, City officials have attempted to use historically sensitive design treatments along what is Hamilton’s most-traveled thoroughfare.

This has meant reversing a decades-long policy agenda of installing more modern-styled public amenities in the hopes that they would encourage the private sector to restore historic buildings, create public interest in visiting downtown, and eventually lead to the rebirth of businesses.

Downtown, from the Great Miami River to MLK Boulevard, was the first district to receive this treatment. Shortly after that, the Main Street business district in historic Rossville, from the river and west to Millville and Eaton Roads, and the connector to the just-recently-constructed Butler County Veterans Highway, between State Route 4 and Fair Avenue.

The most recently completed upgrade was the replacement of the High-Main Street Bridge, which has long been the most-traveled bridge on the Great Miami between Middletown and the Ohio River.

Glaringly missing from these updates, however, was the stretch of High Street between MLK and Route 4, which is actually the primary entry for most visitors to the city. Recognizing the irony, City officials decided to begin the process in 2011 to secure funding to give it a much-needed facelift.

Dubbed the East High Gateway, it will extend the historic district overlay from downtown in the hope that the improvements will have the same positive effect on public perception and business investment that prior streetscaping projects have had when finished. City officials also plan to create a land bank for the area that will help the city return under-utilized parcels into better-use, tax-generating properties.

Originally slated for completion in mid-2014, the 15-month-long construction effort is now expected to be finished later this year. The $8.5 million project includes the installation of brick-lined sidewalks with bioswales, new street lighting, landscaped medians, and alley-like access to businesses along the route. It will also involve burying overhead utilities and upgrading existing underground utilities.

Project officials also hope that the changes improve the flow of traffic for those commuting from the more-residential west side of the city.

The East High Gateway is being paid for through a combination of city and state funds, and with support from the Hamilton Community Foundation. Ongoing project updates can be tracked by following @EastHighGateway on Twitter.

Grocer to Anchor $6.5M Redevelopment of Elder-Beerman in Downtown Hamilton

As the conversation continues about building a grocery store in downtown Cincinnati, developers and city leaders in downtown Hamilton are quickly moving forward with plans to install an organic grocery and deli in the first floor of the former Elder-Beerman department store on High Street.

The building has sat empty since 2009 when the struggling Dayton-based retailer shuttered its operations in Hamilton.

It is envisioned that Jackon’s Market & Deli will supply the city’s increasing downtown population with access to fresh meats and produce for the first time in decades. Hamilton Urban Garden Systems, a recently incorporated 501(c)3 non-profit that has been the primary catalyst behind urban community gardens taking root throughout the city, will provide some of the store’s locally grown produce.

Comparable stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Jungle Jim’s currently require most of Hamilton’s 62,000 residents to make a 15- to 30-minute drive.

Despite having a small footprint, the planned grocery is seen as an anchor to the $6.5 million redevelopment of one of Hamilton’s largest vacant buildings. Spearheaded by the CORE Fund, the project has already landed at least two other major private tenants.

The largest tenant will be a 40,000-square-foot call center for Denver-based StarTek, which will bring with it nearly 700 customer service jobs. Kettering Health Network will join them when they expand the reach of Fort Hamilton Hospital’s Joslin Diabetes Center, marking the return of healthcare services to downtown just blocks away from the former Mercy Hospital site. It will also include facilities for InsideOut Studio, an innovative art program administered by Butler County’s Board of Developmental Disabilities.

The multi-million-dollar project calls for a complete overhaul of the structure’s exterior facades, and a complete interior reconfiguration. Project officials say that it will be completed in several phases, with the majority of work expected to be completed by the end of 2015.