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.

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.

VIDEO: Experience What’s Driving Hamilton’s Ongoing Turnaround

A few months ago we decided to add Hamilton as one of our focus areas. The city is an historic urban center in the overall Cincinnati region, and has its own identity and news. Like many old cities around the United States, Hamilton has experienced some tough times, but is experiencing its own unique turnaround story.

In Hamilton, that turnaround has been focused along the Great Miami River. With the city’s central business district on one side, and charming historic districts surrounding it on both sides of the river, it makes complete sense that attention is focused there.

The positive momentum in Hamilton has been years in the making. The city posted a 2.6% population gain between 2000 and 2010, and never quite experienced the massive population loss many other old industrial cities did.

In addition to establishing one of the best urban school districts in Ohio, the city has long focused on establishing itself as a center for independent artists, and has looked at the Great Miami River as an exceptional opportunity to breathe new recreational opportunities into the city center. Quite simply, the progress is exciting.

A recent video put together by the City of Hamilton, Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Community First Solutions and Foster & Flux illustrates exactly what is trying to be accomplished in the City of Sculpture.

The video is a refreshing change to the many promotional city videos that pop up nowadays. There is an honesty in this one that embraces Hamilton’s industrial past along with its people. The nearly three minute video, entitled We Are Hamilton, also includes a script that was produced by a local writer and carefully narrated in coordination with the imagery.

Support Continues to Grow for Daily Train Service Between Cincinnati and Chicago

Midwest Regional Rail ServiceOhio is surprisingly one of the nation’s least-served states by intercity passenger rail service, but All Aboard Ohio is working to change that.

Perhaps best well known for their fruitless advocacy for the 3C Corridor – an intercity passenger rail line that would have linked Ohio’s largest cities – All Aboard Ohio has regained relevancy as of late. While continually advocating for improvements on existing Amtrak service across the northern reaches of the state, the non-profit organization has also become increasingly involved with efforts to establish rail service between Columbus and Chicago, and Cincinnati and Chicago.

Columbus currently has no connections to the capital of the economically robust Great Lakes region, but Cincinnati does, albeit ever so slightly. As of now, Cincinnatians can get to Chicago via the scrappy three-day-a-week train service offered on Amtrak’s Cardinal Route. In addition to not being daily service, trains infamously arrive and depart in the middle of the night.

This is something, however, that area leaders and All Aboard Ohio officials are working to change. One potential example, they say, is to extend existing service offered on Amtrak’s Hoosier Route. The combination of Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier routes offers Indianapolis daily service to Chicago. From there, the hope is to make gradual improvements to bring the service up to 110mph speeds.

“There is a buzz and excitement in southwest Ohio about connecting to Indy and Chicago that is palpable,” explained Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio. “Even those that have not necessarily been fans of previous rail projects see the necessity of connecting to Chicago – the business and commerce epicenter of the U.S. between the coasts.”

The energy Bauman speaks of was recently seen at an area meeting held by All Aboard Ohio at the Christian Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine. According to Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio, such meetings are typically pretty dull, but this was not the case in Cincinnati.

“Our free local meetings are usually less extravagant than our statewide meetings, and are more akin to briefing or coordination gatherings,” Prendergast told UrbanCincy. “They generally only draw a dozen or two dozen people, so this meeting’s attendance was pretty good.”

All Aboard Ohio welcomed Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R) as their special guest. Over the past few months Murray has taken on a bit of a leadership role in the discussion about establishing daily rail service to Indianapolis and onward to Chicago. Her leadership has also come at a time when Hamilton County Commissioners, in a surprising fashion, voted unanimously in favor of studying the establishment of such service.

Bauman says that All Aboard Ohio has been working with the OKI Regional Council of Governments on a potential scope and funding plan for a feasibility study on the manner, following the unanimous vote from Greg Hartmann (R), Todd Portune (D) and Chris Monzel (R). He says that the group has also been meeting with local jurisdictions and business leaders to grow support even further.

“A big part of this is educating stakeholders on what our competitor regions throughout the Midwest are doing,” said Bauman. “For example, Detroit has three Amtrak roundtrips a day, Milwaukee has seven, St. Louis has five, and even Carbondale, IL has three. Simply put, we are being left behind.”

Some of that recent outreach has included both Hamilton and Oxford – communities that sit along the existing Cardinal Route and would be prime candidates for stops in a case where service is enhanced. To that extent, both communities, in addition to Miami University, have expressed their support for the effort. Now, according to Bauman, the next steps are to reach out to Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.

“As we continue to work with business and government leaders toward establishing at least daily service to Cincinnati, coordinating with our regional institutions of higher learning will be a growing and vital piece of our advocacy partnership focus,” Bauman explained. “Bringing back proper inter-city rail services will be transformative for our region and positively impact the lives of people.”

Construction Work Progressing on Hamilton’s $11.8M Artspace Lofts Project

From the construction of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, to aggressively marketing Pyramid Hill, to proclaiming itself The City of Sculpture, Hamilton has been actively reinventing itself as an arts-friendly and arts-centered community since the early 1990s. One of the most recent efforts, however, has been the development of the Artspace Hamilton Lofts, a partnership between Neighborhood Housing Services of Hamilton and Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects.

When finished next summer, the $11.8 million mixed-use development will include 42 market-rate rental units including studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom options. It will also include commercial and studio space on the first floor for burgeoning local artists.

Since its inception in the late 1970s, Artspace has transformed itself from simply being an advocate for the needs of artists into one of the premier non-profit developers of art-centric residential and commercial space in the United States. From artist cooperatives, to family lots, to non-residential projects, the Artspace Hamilton Lofts will continue their mission of creating unique, historic spaces for artists and arts organizations.

The Artspace project is also indicative of Hamilton’s efforts to reinvigorate its downtown by embracing its architectural past. Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, in an effort to appear more modern and match the neighboring structures that were being constructed, many of Hamilton’s downtown buildings had superficial metal facades installed on them that masked the original architectural details.

Fortunately, two of these surviving buildings, the Mehrum Building and Lindley Block, are in the process of having those metal facades removed as part of the Artspace project. The two properties were selected for the project after an extensive search, for the best location in Hamilton, over the past several years.

According to the Hamilton Lofts project lead, Sarah White, these facades have, in an ironic twist, protected the buildings from the elements over the years. While the structurally important aspects of the two century-old buildings will be left intact, the soft interiors are being completely gutted and rebuilt so that they will function as one.

The project was funded through a combination of public and private sources, including state historic tax credits and the National Endowment for the Arts and the Hamilton Community Foundation.

Project officials say that leasing will begin in the spring, and that those who are interested in applying for one of the residential or commercial art spaces can do so by attending their next informational session on Tuesday, November 18 at the Oxford Community Arts Center.

EDITORIAL NOTE: As part of our efforts to continue to keep you connected with what is happening in the urban areas of our region, we have added a new writer dedicated to covering Butler County’s historic urban cities of Hamilton and Middletown.

David A. Emery, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning and former Hamilton resident, will be covering these cities in an effort to provide coverage of two other urban centers in our metropolitan region that boast significant populations and were 19th century boomtowns along the Great Miami River and Miami-Erie Canal.

Over many generations, both cities have been pulled into Cincinnati’s cultural and economic influence, and now essentially serve as satellite cities to the Queen City. The both, however, also are interesting places that are dealing with issues of urban redevelopment, diverse populations and changing economies.