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.
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.
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.
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.
Cincinnati is a river town. We developed as a major city because of the Ohio River. Multiple satellite cities developed as a result of the several Ohio River tributaries (Little Miami, Great Miami, Licking). These cities have become an integral part of our region and have greatly influenced the population distribution we see today.
Steamboats once darted all over the mighty Ohio River taking people to/from nearby cities and within our own to special destinations like Coney Island. Aside from the historic Anderson Ferry operation there is nothing left to speak of in terms of human transportation along our rivers.
Why not once again tap one of the biggest natural resources our community has as a means for transporting people?
Cincinnati could set up a Central Riverfront water taxi loop that would make stops at Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront Park, Newport on the Levee, and Covington Landing. This 1.65 mile loop could operate daily with one 12 passenger boat running the loop (15min). On the weekends, and for sporting events, a second 12 passenger boat could be deployed to handle greater demand for a route geared towards tourists and special event patrons. The water taxi loop’s reach would be extended with Cincinnati’s proposed streetcar system – making a car-free trip both easy and possible from downtown Covington and Newport all the way to the University of Cincinnati.
Linear routes could then be set up to run to the Central Riverfront Park terminal from the current Anderson Ferry terminal (6.88miles, 28min) to the west and new stops in Columbia Tusculum (4.66miles, 21min) and Coney Island to the east. The Anderson Ferry and Columbia Tusculum docking points would operate daily for commuter traffic, with the additional eastern leg to Coney Island operating on weekends and during special events at Riverbend and Riverdowns – similar to the function of the old “Island Queen” that operated between Coney Island and Downtown Cincinnati.
The water taxis used for the linear routes would hold 27 passengers seated and up to 6 additional standing passengers. Peak operating hours would be during daily commute periods for the Anderson Ferry and Columbia Tusculum terminals with 1 boat operating on each respective leg making for new departures every 40min to 1hr.
Too often we seem to forget how our city and region once functioned when it operated out of a manner of necessity. Riverdowns is feeling the pinch and Coney Island isn’t what it once was prior to the opening of Kings Island. Riverbend has opened a new pavilion and continues to draw big names, but additional service to the concert venue probably wouldn’t hurt.
UPDATE: Covington City Manager, Project Executive for The Banks, and several other riverfront business leaders are working together on collaborative efforts including water taxis– Enquirer 2/16/09.