Keep Northside Weird, Ollie Kroner

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Ollie Kroner (with his gorgeous wife and youngest child), riding the coattails of son, Quincy’s, popularity

Cincyopolis is going around town collecting development stories, what’s working in our neighborhoods and what isn’t, as the building boom ripples out from the city center to other parts of town.  I met Ollie Kroner, president of the Northside Community Council, at this year’s Neighborhood Summit and asked if he would be willing to share his perspective.

Ollie is deceptively low-key. He has a quiet voice and pauses to think for a second or two before he answers a question.  He’s an environmental scientist four days a week, the rest of his professional life split between Porch Swing Properties, specialists in the renovation of historic buildings, and Cincinnati Bio-diesel Initiative, a company that makes a cheaper, cleaner alternative to diesel fuel. But Ollie’s real claim to fame is as Quincy’s dad, the little boy who went viral because of his passion for garbage trucks and the men who man them, this year’s Grand Marshall of the Northside 4th of July parade.

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Quincy, overwhelmed when he finally meets his heroes

Standing in the order line at Melt on Hamilton Avenue with Ollie a few weeks ago, I felt like everybody else in the room already knew each other.  “Is that beard itchy?” asked the little, gray-haired lady in the line behind us, reaching out to touch his face. She and her friend chatted with the handsome young Community Council president about neighbors they all knew and the Farmer’s Market.   Later, while we were eating lunch on the patio, a group from a nearby table apologized for interrupting our conversation more than once.  They were celebrating a big new partnership they’d just landed with UC after years of work and wanted to share their triumph with a fellow environmentalist. Everybody had to make a particular fuss over their 93-year-old associate  who had just finished running his most recent half-marathon and was still wearing his medal.

So often when I talk to the individuals who are active in their neighborhood development issues, there’s a lot of frustration in their dealings with big developers.  They feel like the community’s voice isn’t being heard.  But that hasn’t been Ollie’s experience.

“Of course it’s not like the big developers are lining-up to get into Northside,” he admitted, explaining that interest is growing, especially among smaller developers who don’t require layers of public financing, but a lot of the progress in his neighborhood has focused on in-fill projects rather than the mega-deals that get all the attention.  He raved about how effective their Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (now called NEST) under the leadership of Stephanie Sunderland has been in focusing on problem areas, completing 20 pivotal properties and helping to obtain gap financing for individuals and businesses. “Stephanie’s an encyclopedia of local information,” he said, “and great at navigating city bureaucracy. ”

Northside is unique in so many ways, a niche artist community in one of the best preserved historic districts that is truly walk-able, close to the universities and hospitals.  There’s something for everyone with the median home price around $140,000, 50% of the neighborhood available for rentals.   Young couples are moving in to be part of a close-knit community with affordable houses where you don’t have to get in a car to grab a cup of good coffee or go listen to a band.

But maybe the issue that really sets Northside apart from a development perspective is that when all the other neighborhoods jumped on the Tax Increment Financing District bandwagon ten years ago, Northside leaders opted not to participate on moral grounds, and is now one of the few areas that can’t offer TIF subsidized goodies to attract new projects.  Ollie mentioned that as he’s watched other neighborhoods use TIF funds to improve their communities, sometimes he’s been a little jealous.

Even without that option, new developments are popping-up faster than they have in the last hundred years:  the conversion of the American Can building into apartment lofts,  the Gantry, a 130 unit apartment building on the corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton, and the most recent announcement was a 54-unit apartment for low-income seniors being developed by the Episcopal Retirement Homes at the corner of Knowlton and Mad Anthony.  There’s lots of new food and music venues, burger joints, more than one barcade, Northside Distilling, bunches of taco possibilities, and the oft-talked-about Littlefield is a big draw.  Technology companies have also been attracted to everything Northside has to offer.

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The American Can Building

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the Gantry Apartments going up at the corner of Hamilton and Blue Rock

Yes, Ollie, a Tax-Increment-Financing District could have attracted more development action to your corner of the Cincinnati landscape, but faster development, bigger development, is not synonymous with the kind of place that makes real people commit to a neighborhood with their hearts, stay loyal, raise families, and start small businesses there.  Slowly, steadily Northside has been building the kind of special place that can’t be bought with taxpayer subsidies.  People are moving to Northside because it’s Northside, weird, more-imagination-than-money, Lawn Chair Lady, tattoo-rich Northside, the kind of neighborhood where the librarians at the local branch know patrons by name, one with an independent hardware store that nobody who has ever been inside can ever forget.

Absent one of the most popular tools in today’s public financing arsenal, Northside hasn’t missed out on anything that really matters.  Instead of a vision imposed by big, for-profit corporations that too often includes chain restaurants with lots of parking, the future of this community is being determined by neighbors who care about each other and inclusive values that don’t always register on the bottom-line.  The rest of Cincinnati should be jealous of Northside.

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24 thoughts on “Keep Northside Weird, Ollie Kroner

  1. Andy Shenk

    My wife’s sister and brother-in-law are seriously considering moving to Cincy from Chicago. When they visit next weekend, we’re going to take them on a tour of Northside. Based on everything I’ve read and seen, it really does seem like the best neighborhood in the city for a young family that wants to buy a modest-sized house.

    Reply
    1. kestate66

      Hi there,

      I’m a resident of Northside (Addingham Pl) since 1998, a NEST board member, and I’m a Realtor in the area. I would love to help you help your in-laws find a new home in Northside! I have a lot on the market here and many more coming active in the next few weeks! You can reach me at kbridgman@comey.com or 513-379-4881, or you can reach my associate, Emily Buzek Valentino, at evalentino@comey.com. We would love to help your family!

      Reply
    2. Jay

      Take a look at Rockford Place just up Hamilton AVe. New homes with Tax abatements, some are only 5 years old or younger, others are as much as 14. Well worth a visit.

      Reply
  2. Quimbob

    There is also a development further north turning an old school (Kirby Elementary) into apartments. I believe it’s being done by the guys that did American Can.
    ALSO
    6 new houses at Fergus & Lingo

    Reply
  3. Thurman Wenzl

    Don’t you mean “and the people who work on them” with reference to the garbage collectors? At least in my neighborhood (Oakley) many women do this work, and we need to be alert to how we use language to include everybody. (“to staff” is also a good verb to start using, as opposed to “to man”)

    Reply
  4. Chip Kussmaul

    TIF is a legal way for developers to take your tax dollars, do what they want with it, and then act like they’re doing you a favor. Clifton Heights TIF was used to build a parking garage for local businesses. But they had to bulldoze the local businesses to build it.

    Reply
  5. Holly Morgan

    My daughter has been a resident of Northside for many years. For the most part we love it, however the majority of the businesses on Hamilton Avenue are not wheelchair accessible. Some, like Pinnokios bring out a ramp for her but at most others she either has to bring her own ramp or not enter at all. As a neighborhood that prides itself on being inclusive, I would love to see businesses be more welcoming instead of using the tired old “we don’t have to get a ramp, we are grandfathered in before they were required”.

    Reply
    1. kestate66

      Hi Holly! I’m so glad you brought this up. Northside is partaking in a study to figure out how we can make the historic buildings on Hamilton Avenue more accessible for our community members who are in wheelchairs. You’re right in that the buildings are grandfathered in to not have to have them, but also the sidewalk space and pitch that is needed are difficult to marry, making it costly. One of our best and brightest, Heather Sturgill, (https://www.facebook.com/sturgill.heather) is spearheading this study and I encourage you to reach out to her to see where we are with this and to keep this conversation going, because I AGREE! Thank you for bringing up this very important issue!

      Reply
  6. Mary Lambert

    I’m new to following your blog and think it’s terrific. I live in Linwood and we are experiencing (as are Mt. Lookout and Hyde Park) the purchasing of single family properties by developers who want to demolish older homes and replace them with multiple units, creating a generally unwelcome density, and distorting home prices – the new ones clearly providing an enormous profit to the developer, while the city gives tax subsidies to the new owners – who will no doubt be taking on a rather hefty mortgage. In Linwood we also have Hillside Overlay district issues (zoning) and these need to be respected to insure quality construction (if not actual respect for the hillside). There has been vigorous pushback from the residents of these communities and one of the comments I hear regularly is, “the city should be incentivizing construction in blighted communities where people need affordable, safe homes, NOT supporting huge profits for developers and herding people into ‘desirable’ neighborhoods”. This does not help Cincinnati to revitalize itself where it most needs it. So…..you’re right Mr. Kroner! Take heart.

    Reply
    1. executivedreamer Post author

      Gosh – such an important discussion we need to have in Cincinnati. What’s the proper use of incentives? I also agree with the idea that incentives should be reserved for truly blighted areas.

      Reply
      1. Mary Lambert

        It’s definitely hot button right now, inadvertently. That’s what surprises me. One day, you look out your window and there’s a demolition bulldozer! OK, you think. Private property ownership allows for this – maybe the house was too old, the owner just likes new stuff, etc. Then, a zoning change request shows up in your mailbox looking for all the world like junk mail, a week before the hearing during the day on a weekday. Be there or be prepared for 4-6 new, longer slender, “town homes” to be wedged in to the spot which held one house before. Where will everyone park? Where did all the old growth trees go? Why will that house be worth $1.2 million and mine, $185K? Why do people earning enough to “buy” that kind of house need a tax abatement for 15 yrs? Is the city just a big blunderbuss which didn’t think about this or is their a silly Job creation ideology at work? I don’t know the answers and I don’t think I am meant to know the answers unless I take up investigative journalism. Who will employ me? Corporate news like Cincinnati.com? All rhetorical questions, but it’s what’s happening.

  7. Alex

    Northside is not a city like Portland Oregon. It’s a neighborhood. Stop trying to make it more than it is….

    Reply
  8. 5chw4r7z

    If there is an upside to the rising rents in OTR its that once people realize they can’t afford it, neighborhoods like the Northside start looking really attractive. And once people are there they realize they probably don’t need OTR, the Northside is home to many amazing coffee shops, bars and restaurants without the 3 hour waits.
    Whats not to love?

    Reply
      1. 5chw4r7z

        LOL, you know how long it took me to stop saying The Senate and The Lackman? I’ll work on dropping the the in the Northside.

  9. jimjim421

    North side is ok–cool shops and restaurants–but it is pre-gentrified and will need to keep on its toes to prevent encroaching “conventionalism.” It’s true that the waits are shorter but so is the general appeal. OTR has downtown going for it, while Northside has the “too far west for east siders” and too quirky for west siders” things going on. It really has to start REinventing itself in a way that’s new to outsiders and traditionally weird for insiders. No more resting on its laurels.

    Reply
  10. Johnny

    I just bought an 1890’s house in Northside for all the reasons listed above. It’s the people, the walkability, the general family friendly yet weird vibe. And Northside is remarkably affordable. I’m looking forward to being a part of the slow, incremental, mom-and-pop revival of a place that’s already pretty fabulous.

    Reply
  11. Emily Bennings

    We moved from the suburbs of Independence, Kentucky in 2013 to Northside. We brought our four children and two dogs with us, of course. It’s been quite a learning curve, but we couldn’t be happier with our new neighborhood.

    We used to drive at least 15 minutes to go anywhere. Now we can walk to the corner store, or to our local coffee shop or bar. The food is great and the people are friendly. This neighborhood has heart!

    We miss KY, but love our new hometown!

    Reply
  12. Barbara Boylan

    I am a Northside resident of 20 years. Still waiting for attention to be paid to decent income housing – thought it might happen here (and I am not even talking about low-income housing). Middle class working twenty somethings pay $700+ for rent now (studio or one bedroom), putting Northside on the map as another contributor to the renters crisis (http://righttothecity.org/cause/rise-of-the-renter-nation/). Single people who used to be able to buy in Northside now look elsewhere. All sorts of tax incentives are used, but for developments/housing that is costly – so local development groups move this way, and the neoliberal model wins the day. It’s still true most people don’t make a lot of money (and spend 30% or more on their housing costs), and increasingly, those people are not a part of the gorgeous or handsome neighborhood we are becoming. Ever wonder where they go?

    Reply
  13. executivedreamer Post author

    OK, Barbara Boylan, I am going to play devil’s advocate/former financial consultant here. Ollie told me the average home price in Northside is $140,000 (and I’ve seen several houses in great shape on sale for significantly less) and according to my handy-dandy mortgage calculator the monthly payment on a 30-year loan, including property taxes, would be around $750. If you are a first time buyer there are several programs available to help with the down-payment. Since the smartest investment I ever made was to pay off my house in full, I guess I’m missing something. Why would middle-class working twenty somethings prefer to rent? Especially if the goal goes beyond immediate housing needs and has anything to do with long-term financial independence?

    Of course there’s another issue here with so much taxpayer subsidy going to the corporate sector. Why not even-out the playing field and throw a bone to the middle class? Personally I would prefer lower subsidies for all (especially for-profit developers) and lower taxes for middle income folks. Heresy of heresy, I’d like to see corporate America paying their fair share of expenses to run our cities and federal government. The sooner we all get off the government-tit, the better – and I’m not talking about poor people. I’m talking about all of us who can afford to pay. I’m talking about me. Without ever asking for a single break, my household legally pays ridiculously little into the public coffers and something is wrong with that system – very, very wrong.

    Reply
  14. Paul Komarek

    Northside has been working on self-improvement for 35 years. We moved to Northside in 1980 and stayed for all the fun. Our first house here was part of a group of three included in the city’s “Urban Homesteading” program — a lottery program, a house for a dollar if you invested in upgrades and stayed for five years. The progress we have seen has been neighbor-driven. We have worked through issues with violent local bars, drug-dealing storefronts, gangs, school transitions, and the threat of a big-box drugstore on our main street. The neighborhood remains diverse and vital, friendly and inviting. Anyone can live in Northside. That’s why it’s so cool.

    Reply

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