Hamilton Looking At Possibility of Developing Urban Trail on City’s West Side

The City of Hamilton is looking at the possibility of acquiring approximately 36.5 acres of land from CSX Corporation following its filing for abandonment of the former freight railroad. If city officials ultimately decide to proceed with the purchase, the plan will be to turn it into an urban bike and pedestrian trail on Hamilton’s inner west side.

Running from CSX’s main line in Millville to the former Champion Paper Mill, which is in the process of being redeveloped into a youth sports and entertainment complex, the property also includes a former railyard near the Great Miami River at Two Mile Creek.

Hamilton’s west side neighborhoods currently lack any protected bike lanes or off-street bike paths. As a result, the possibility of adding such an amenity has community leaders excited.

“The proposed Beltline trail will be of great value to our community,” said Hamilton Councilman Rob Wile. “By connecting these neighborhoods to our existing trail infrastructure we open up a number of convenient outdoor recreational opportunities to our residents.”

Earlier in the year city officials hosted public hearings to gather feedback on the concept, and are continuing to gather feedback through an online survey. The results, they say, will help determine whether they should ultimately pursue the project.

“The survey lets the City know what kind of benefits residents see in the trail, how often they may use it, what potential negative aspects or problems may occur with it; and is being used to see what generally the public thinks about the potential trail,” Nicholas Garuckas, City Management Fellow inside Hamilton’s Office of the City Manager, explained to UrbanCincy.

“The [survey] results are carefully being looked at and considered in helping determine whether or not the City should be moving forward with this project or not.

In the meantime, Garuckas says that City Hall is moving forward with an appraisal of the land’s value, along with assessing the possibility of various grants from agencies like the Ohio Public Works Clean Conservation Fund, Rails to Trails Conservancy, Dopplet Family Fund, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Clean Ohio Trail Fund, and Recreational Train Fund.

The project follows a pattern of other more marque urban trail projects around the country that are transforming former industrial rail corridors into park and recreation space for under-served urban communities.

Last June, Chicago celebrated the opening of its 2.7-mile trail called The 606. Atlanta, meanwhile, has been opening segments of its much larger 33-mile BeltLine project in phases over recent years. Nearby, in Cincinnati, city officials are poised to acquire an abandoned 7.6-mile freight rail line in its eastern neighborhoods for what is being called the Wasson Way project.

While smaller in scope, the approximately 2.7-mile Hamilton Beltline has, at least initially, has gained the support of Hamilton City Council, and is rooted in the city’s planning documents. In fact, city officials explain that the idea for the project came out of discussions about what to do with the Champion Paper Mill complex and surrounding areas.

“This project is part of the bike path master plan and it will be an asset to all those who enjoy the outdoors including walkers and joggers,” Wile concluded.

If Hamilton is successful in acquiring the land, it would add significant recreational facilities and new transportation options to the city’s west side. If abandonment proceedings continue without Hamilton moving to purchase the property, it will instead be sold off in piecemeal fashion to private owners.

CORE Looking to Spread Redevelopment Activity Beyond Downtown Hamilton

Following the successful efforts of the Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts in the area around High Street in downtown Hamilton, the public-private partnership is now taking a more targeted approach to spark new investment along Main Street in the city’s historic Rossville neighborhood.

CORE has acquired a collection of 10 properties along the Main Street corridor that they say were purchased either due to availability or significance. The hope, they say, is to make an immediate impact on private property movement in the district.

The group does this by making strategic property acquisitions, returning them to productive use, then selling the properties to new private owners. In order to have the broadest impact, CORE also works with City Hall on more traditional economic development efforts to enhance the value of their properties and those around them.

“CORE’s first commitment is to reset and realign commercial storefronts, and increase economic and human activity at the street level,” Michael Dingeldein, Executive Director of CORE, explained to UrbanCincy. “That being said, additional residential density in the upper levels can and will also support increased foot traffic on Main Street.”

While leadership at CORE notes that their mission has been to focus on Hamilton’s city center, the new effort marks the partnership’s first major play outside of downtown. The move comes at the same time as several other initiatives, led by Hamilton City Council and Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, to boost the historic district on the west side of the Great Miami River.

The organization has been incredibly successful on the other side of the river downtown; and they see similar conditions along Main Street that can be leveraged.

Among other items, Dingeldein noted that the Main Street corridor boasts excellent architecture, terrific proximity to high quality neighborhoods, and an inviting pedestrian scale. At the same time, the district is lacking in diverse retail offerings, struggles with a negative public perception, and needs significant investments to improve building and sidewalk conditions.

But as is similar with many other neighborhood business districts, he says that reestablishing a residential presence above commercial retail will be critical.

“One of the biggest challenges will be to establish market rate residential density in the upper floors, over diverse retail storefronts on the street level,” said Dingeldein.

If indications are at all accurate, he may very well be right. As of now, he estimates that only half of the storefronts along Main Street are occupied, while less than 10% of the upper floors are being utilized for residential space.

“Our momentum and success in Hamilton in the past five years has been our broad all hands on deck approach to our challenges,” Dingeldein concluded. “Our city government is proactive and engaged, but fully supports all of our civic resources being in the same boat, at the same time, rowing in the same direction.”

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.

Marcum Park To Be Built Along Great Miami River Thanks to $3.5M Donation

Hamilton leaders are moving forward with a long-envisioned park along the Great Miami River in the city’s German Village neighborhood thanks to a $3.5 million contribution from the Marcum family via the Hamilton Community Foundation.

The park is part of the larger RiversEdge development that already includes an amphitheater, overlook, and an extension of the Great Miami River Trail that is planned to run from New Miami to Fairfield.

These phase one projects were completed in late 2013. Since that time, the outdoor amphitheater built into the flood wall of the Great Miami River has become a central gathering point for area residents. In addition to hosting concerts and other major public events, the amphitheater is also the outdoor home of the Hamilton-Fairfield Symphony Orchestra.

“This is downtown’s backyard,” Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said in a prepared release. “With increasing momentum in Hamilton’s urban core, the Marcum family has given this community a huge push toward becoming a purposeful destination for working, living, and playing.”

The project sits on a 7.3-acre site that once was home to Mercy Hospital before it closed in 2008 and torn down shortly thereafter. Following the completion of the $2.1 million first phase of RiversEdge, Hamilton city officials and community members then worked with Columbus-based MKSK Design to develop a master plan for the remaining portion of the site that will become the park.

“It’s a wonderful thing to have a central area where the city can come together and enjoy a nice park,” said Joe Marcum. “It will add interest to the development of the downtown area. This will help Hamilton to be more dynamic.”

Though the park’s final details and design are being refined, early drawings illustrate that the park will include open lawns and meandering sidewalks, design features that can accommodate food trucks, a children’s play area and an interactive fountain.

Project officials expect that the design and construction work can be completed over the next year-and-a-half and open sometime in mid-2016.