Mixed-Use, Mixed-Income Redevelopment in Cincinnati
Mercer Commons’ second phase adds residential and commercial space and extends 3CDC’s revitalization efforts to Walnut Street. Credit: 3CDC Over-the-Rhine (OTR), a German enclave in the nineteenth century and Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhood, reached a peak population of 45,000 during the early 1900s. The neighborhood contains an architectural legacy of over 900 Italianate buildings situated between Cincinnati’s two principal job centers. Despite these assets, OTR had experienced increased unemployment, vacancy, and criminal activity, causing local corporate and government leaders to join forces in 2003 to address the challenges keeping the community from reaching its potential. Together, they founded the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) to create a redevelopment strategy for Cincinnati’s urban core and OTR. The nonprofit’s goals call for high density mixed-use development and mixed-income residential areas that revitalize OTR’s historic character.
Community Transformation through Rehabilitation
When 3CDC was founded, the poverty rate among OTR’s 7,000 residents stood at 58 percent, unemployment was at 25 percent, and the median annual household income was below $10,000. Within 2 years, 3CDC invested $27 million in a land bank to purchase and stabilize 300 buildings and lots in OTR. By December 2014, the organization had invested $335 million in OTR to revitalize its iconic building stock, attract new businesses, and offer a range of housing types at various levels of affordability. Much of this reinvestment activity has taken place along Vine Street. Along with new development, the corridor has seen its crime rate cut in half, weakening what had been a major deterrent to investment. According to Anastasia Mileham, vice president of marketing and communications at 3CDC, “One of the reasons for decreased criminal activity and increased perceptions of safety was the addition of ‘feet on the street’ and ‘eyes in the buildings’ — bringing vacant buildings back into use and filling empty streets with more residents, office workers, restaurant [and] bar patrons, and park visitors began to deter the criminals.
Mercer Commons, one of 3CDC’s most recent projects, brings mixed-use, mixed-income development to a strategically important part of the neighborhood. The project connects catalytic business developments on either end of the Vine Street corridor, 3CDC’s primary economic development focus, and extends new commercial and residential activity and increased safety one block east to Walnut Street. The first of the project’s 3 planned phases included 28 condominiums and 3,900 square feet of commercial space, as well as a parking garage to support the expanding activity in OTR. The second phase, completed in June 2014, included new construction and the rehabilitation of 13 historic buildings to create 67 apartments and 10,600 square feet of commercial space. This phase contains the project’s affordable housing, with 30 rental units for households earning between 50 and 60 percent of the area median income. Amenities for residents include a fitness center, garage parking, and a barbecue and picnic area. Construction has begun on the third phase of Mercer Commons, which will add 12 market-rate condominiums and townhomes, and is scheduled for completion by fall 2015.
The development cost for the first two phases of Mercer Commons was $49.3 million, partially paid for with $11.6 million from the Cincinnati Equity Fund (CEF). The first two phases also received $8.82 million in new market tax credit equity and $2.5 million from the Cincinnati New Markets Fund. Additional funding came through a $7.21 million grant from the city. The two phases also earned $5.38 million in historic tax credit equity and $4.7 million in low-income housing tax credit equity. A $5 million loan through the Jobs Ohio initiative funded the garage. The third phase will be paid for with an additional $5.45 million from CEF.
Building on Momentum in OTR
Revitalization along Vine Street, which included streetscape improvements and the rehabilitation of historic buildings, has helped attract business activity to the neighborhood. Credit: J. Miles Wolf
Mercer Commons is just one of 3CDC’s many completed or in-progress projects in OTR that are returning diverse business activity and housing opportunities while restoring the neighborhood’s famous Italianate buildings. In addition, 3CDC has invested in public spaces including improvements to streetscapes and the 8-acre Washington Square Park west of Vine Street. The park, which now includes a playground, water feature, and dog park, serves as a popular community gathering place and provides a venue for entertainment, exercise, and other programs. Along with the affordable housing in Mercer Commons’ second phase, 3CDC is dedicated to promoting projects that maintain OTR’s traditional range of incomes. Mileham states, “In order for the neighborhood to be a truly mixed-income community, it is important to preserve the existing affordable housing, ensure that it is appropriately managed, and that the units are continually updated.” Through partnerships with local nonprofit and private developers, 3CDC is working to meet this goal.
3CDC. 2014. “Over-the-Rhine.” Accessed 12 January 2015; Correspondence from Anastasia Mileham, vice president of marketing and communications at 3CDC, 16 January-10 February 2015; 3CDC. 2014. “Who We Are.” Accessed 16 January 2015; 3CDC. 2014. “Completed Projects: Mercer Commons.” Accessed 12 January 2015.×
3CDC. 2014. “Completed Projects: Mercer Commons.” Accessed 12 January 2015; Correspondence from Anastasia Mileham, vice president of marketing and communications at 3CDC, 16 January-3 February 2015; 3CDC. 2013. “New Mixed Income Apartments Coming to Over-the-Rhine,” press release 28 May. Accessed 12 January 2015; McCormack Baron Management. 2014. “Amenities.” Accessed 12 January 2015; 3CDC. 2014. “Current Projects: Mercer III Townhomes.” Accessed 12 January 2015.×
Correspondence from Anastasia Mileham, vice president of marketing and communications at 3CDC, 16 January-3 February 2015; 3CDC. 2014. “Over-the-Rhine.” Accessed 12 January 2015; 3CDC. 2014. “Completed Projects: Washington Park.” Accessed 3 February 2015; Over-the-Rhine Chamber. n.d. “Neighborhood History.” Accessed 12 January 2015.×