Downtown Concierge

Cities’ hearts beating strong in Ohio’s three C’s


In the Media


The Columbus Dispatch

Euclid Avenue was the spark in Cleveland, as a bus rapid-transit system ignited development along the important Downtown artery once lined with so many mansions it was known as Millionaires’ Row.

The rebirth of downtown Cincinnati started with Fountain Square and in Over-the-Rhine, a historic neighborhood filled with stately but crumbling homes.

In Columbus, the Arena District rose on the blighted site of a long-closed prison. This started a wave of development that has spread south, to the river and the land formerly occupied by the failed City Center mall.

Now, after many years and a combined investment of about $10 billion, Ohio’s three largest cities are enjoying downtown booms that have added residents, jobs, economic impact and vibrancy.

“It’s an overnight sensation 30 years in the making,” said Edward Hill, dean of Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs.

“We’ve noticed it and are thrilled,” said Pat Barker, interim director of TourismOhio. “And, what’s even more amazing is so much of it, the construction projects and plans, was done during the recession.”

Even in the midst of the recession, Ohio’s three C’s indeed moved forward with major projects, many of them initiated with public money.

“The reason Columbus has fared so well is our public and private leaders work so well together,” said Guy Worley, chief executive of Columbus Downtown Development Corp. and Capitol South, which operates Columbus Commons park.

Development expanded outward from these cities’ projects, which included parks, arenas and stadiums, museums and universities, hotels and, in recent years, casinos.

The simultaneous rebirth of Ohio’s three biggest cities could help change the image of a state that too often has been linked to job losses and fading industries, experts said. Such a reversal also could boost economic development and reverse the so-called brain drain.

“Instead of losing these young professionals to Chicago and the West Coast and East Coast, they’l l stay here if we have something vibrant going on,” said Mark Patton, managing director of JobsOhio. “It’s part of our long-term planning.”

This planning, he said, includes a commitment to creating jobs in financial services, information technology, health care and marketing.

“They’re the knowledge workers,” Patton said. “And they are college-educated, more-upscale and are looking for a downtown vibrancy.”

Generational shift

Ohio’s downtown projects have caught the attention of both the millennial generation and empty nesters yearning to live in a downtown environment filled with nearby amenities.

“You can no longer find an apartment or condo in downtown Cleveland,” Patton said. “Vacancies are zippo.”

It is the same in Columbus and Cincinnati, as the vacancy rates downtown have dropped in recent years and the list of new projects continues to grow. All these feet on the street in the three downtowns led to the opening of scores of restaurants and shops and the construction of more apartments and condominiums that will fuel the opening of more restaurants and shops. It’s a virtuous cycle of urban renewal.

All these amenities also have helped the three cities increase the number of regional and national conventions and meetings they attract.

“These meeting planners know that just because they hold a meeting someplace doesn’t mean people will come,” Barker said. “They’re looking for cities that have vibrant things to do at night, places people can walk to, and all three cities have this now, and it’s a huge benefit.”

This is a big change from a decade ago.

In Cincinnati, the city’s nine Fortune 500 companies banded together to create a real-estate development fund that became Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., or 3CDC. The first projects were the restoration of Fountain Square, in the central business district, and Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine.

The organization also has bought 200 vacant buildings and 150 vacant lots in Over-the-Rhine, said Anastasia Mileham, spokeswoman for 3CDC.

Finding people to live in downtown residential developments has been a breeze in Ohio. And nationally, many other cities are in the midst of downtown revivals.

“The Generation Y’ers (also called the millennial generation) are the biggest demographic bubble we’ve ever seen, 60 million strong,” said Conor McNally, chief development officer of Carter, the Atlanta-based developer of the Banks project in Cincinnati and HighPoint at Columbus Commons.

“They have lit a fire for urban, rental housing,” he said. “It’s creating something phenomenal and has changed the tone of downtowns.”

HighPoint is a $50 million project that includes 302 apartments and 23,000 square feet of retail space that is part of Columbus Commons park.

The Banks is a $600 million, multiphase project that will take 10 to 15 years to complete, McNally said. As the name suggests, the 18-acre development is along the Ohio River, nestled between Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium.

The $400 million Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati is scheduled to open in the spring, and the city also is building a $110 million-plus streetcar system that will run from the riverfront through the central business district and into Over-the-Rhine.

“What we’re seeing along the river is so exciting,” McNally said of the parks, foot traffic, restaurants and events at the stadiums. “The riverfront in Cincinnati was never treated in the way it deserved over the years. It was like the city had turned its back on it.”About $2.6 billion has been invested in the urban core of Cincinnati, said Chris Kemper, spokesman for Cincinnati USA Partnership, a regional-development initiative.

Answers by the lake

In Cleveland, the Downtown Cleveland Alliance has helped spur $5 billion in investment, including about $3 billion in the central business district, said Michael Deemer, its vice president of business development.

The Euclid Avenue corridor has been the epicenter of all this development. “What we did here was create an innovative rapid-transit system,” Deemer said. “And since it opened (in 2008), it has created several billion in development along Euclid Avenue, by the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland State University, the hospitals and the Horseshoe.”

The $350 million Horseshoe Cleveland casino opened last year.

“In the first two months, it attracted over a million visitors,” Deemer said. “It brought people to downtown Cleveland who hadn’t been here in a while to check it out, and they’re finding a fun, vibrant environment.”

The $465 million Cleveland Medical Mart & Convention Center opens this year. It is part museum and exhibit space and part training center, and it’s expected to bring thousands of health-care professionals to the city.

“It’s the first of its kind, a medical-innovation showplace,” said David Gilbert, chief executive of Positively Cleveland, the convention and visitors bureau.

The Arena District was the beginning of the boom in Columbus. Nationwide Arena opened in 2000, and the district now also has more than 1.2 million square feet of office space, numerous restaurants, two completed residential projects, with a third under construction, and a ballpark.

Capitol Square Ltd., the real-estate arm of The Dispatch Printing Company, owns 20 percent of the Arena District.

After the Arena District created the momentum, Worley said, the next key projects were renovating the empty Lazarus building and razing the vacant City Center mall in the Capitol South area of Downtown, which in turn has led to residential projects and restaurants.

“We had a 1.2 million-square-foot empty mall and 700,000-(square)-foot empty department store,” he said.

Downtown has had about $2.55 billion invested, according to the Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District. The goal with Columbus Commons and other major projects is to create the hub leading to spokes of development that reach farther and farther and connect with spokes from other major developments.

“You have to create not just a building,” said Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, “but an environment.”