How the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation Changed My Life

wh

photo credit: Joanne Lincoln Maly

I’m standing in the parking lot behind Trevarren Flats on McMillan Avenue in the heart of the Walnut Hills business district, a project that will result in 30 new market rate apartments combined with street-level retail. Kevin Wright, Executive Director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, is giving me a tour.  The architect for the job is discussing details with Thea Munchel, WHRF’s Director of Real Estate & Economic Development.  A couple of workmen in yellow hard-hats are laying masonry for a very expensive elevator running up the outside of the 119 year-old Victorian building (extra money nobody anticipated until it was too late).  This is the project that has consumed the last 3 ½ years of Kevin’s life, kept him awake more nights than he likes to admit.  His development-partner, the Model Group, decided they couldn’t make the numbers work more than once.  Kevin was sure he was going to have to to be the one to make the call to tear the building down.  The roof had collapsed.  There was significant water damage.

trevarren

But here we are, late April of 2015, four months into the construction process.  My companions are so proud, so excited.  Then we walk inside the smaller five-story structure to the right. “Be careful,” they warn me frequently.  There’s not much to see in the dark.  Until I look up.  And see daylight.  From the ground floor.  I’m looking up through holes in all five floors to the sky.  Every single joist has to be replaced.  Trying to maintain an outward demeanor of enthusiasm, inside my head, I’m wide-eyed, my mouth agape and I’m screaming, “Oh my god, this is POMPEII.”

flats

In Walnut Hills the current wave of transformation started with a grant to focus on safety.  Rather than figure out how to put more people in jail, the Redevelopment Foundation decided to take a place-based approach. Like a lot of older neighborhoods close to the core, Walnut Hills features an alley system, narrow little brick-paved roads that weave behind and between the buildings on the main thoroughfares.  Theirs was disgusting, littered with used condoms and discarded needles, even the occasional dead dog.  People ran down them doing bad things.

One spot where five of those allies converge was surrounded by a fence with overgrowth so thick nobody could see the triangle of green space hidden inside.  Kevin rented a dumpster for a couple hundred bucks and volunteers got busy cleaning.  Their first pop-up beer garden in the fall of 2012 drew 40-50 people, friends asking friends, “What’s 5 Points? Are you going?”  This Sunday at 3pm, the first Five Points Alley Biergarten of the season will feature live music, a bike valet and  draw hundreds of young creatives from all over the city.  While the beer’s great, the real attraction is the secret clubhouse culture that’s about believing in your city, an excitement no amount of money can buy.   Recently a coffee house leased one of the empty storefronts that backs onto the alley.  Other retailers are looking at spaces nearby.  (Check out Andrew Strahlke’s amazing video, Urban Resurrection, to see the real thing. All his documentation of the Walnut Hills experience is worth watching.)

Walnut Hills is hot right now, in the news on a regular basis.  But the rebirth of this neighborhood didn’t start with a mega-development like U Square or the corporate backing of a 3CDC.  It started with faith. It started with people.  Every single one of us should have to stand in the middle of a building crumbling from years of neglect and listen to the war stories of the people who take on the task of rebuilding our spirit from the bottom up.  Only when I looked through the floor-boards and saw sky could I appreciate how hard this work is and all that it takes to honor what it is that makes Cincinnati unique.

the vision

the vision

EVERYBODY really should get the opportunity to do a little development tourism.  With that in mind Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation has agreed to be the first in a series of cincyopolis field trips next September.  Stay tuned for more info.

Cincyopolis reminds readers that information-delivery is currently in the midst of a revolution the likes of which haven’t been experienced since the invention of the printing press, that the internet is a wild-west experiment in how we share knowledge and that it is absolutely, completely, totally impossible to participate in this medium as a passive observer.  Followers are encouraged to leave comments (disguise your identity if necessary), correct me when I’m wrong (be nice – I’m trying my best and will correct mistakes ASAP) and add your wisdom to the collective pot that builds this great city of ours.   Submissions for guest posts of around 600 words are encouraged and should be sent to executive.dreamer@gmail.com for consideration.    If you’ve got experience to share, please do it where everyone can see, instead of emailing, messaging or calling me privately as all the info hurts my head.  Welcome to the wikipedia method of citizen-journalism.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “How the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation Changed My Life

  1. Mary Anne Curtiss, M.D.

    Jut be sure to keep property taxes low and agencies present so that returning citizens from our jail and prison system–there are so many of them! –can return to a neighborhood they recognize and can live in, as peaceful, newly-reformed neighbors who just need some welcome and some structure and some way to make a living.

    Reply
  2. executivedreamer Post author

    Mary Anne – I had an eye-opening experience recently when I was reviewing every single project undertaken by 3CDC to date. I’d recently spent a couple of hours with Mary Burke Rivers, Executive Director of Over The Rhine Community Housing,one of the leading advocates in our city for affordable housing. I’m crazy about her and admire her greatly. But I noticed the development projects her organization had worked on with 3CDC (and BTW – she said they were very cooperative to work with) – those development projects received some of the highest public subsidies of any done in this area and they were at the top of the price range in terms of average sales price. Mary’s worked for affordable housing in OTR for 30 years. If she can’t rehab these buildings and make them affordable – we have to be realistic about what’s possible. It looks like we either save our historic building stock and accept the fact that costs will rise in these neighborhoods – or we tear down our history and build affordable housing. Property taxes (and rents) will have to go up if we save old buildings.
    HOWEVER – I agree wholeheartedly with your concern for convicted felons returning to our communities. I’ve been reassured to see City Council (especially Yvette Simpson and Charlie Winburn) dealing directly with this issue more and more lately.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s