Does Anybody Else Remember Convention Place Food Court and Shops?

Convention Place Food Court and Shops opened in 1968  (warning: this date was wrong – Convention Place Mall was part of the first renovation in the mid to late 80s and the architect was Thomas Hefley) and this is what was happening to Cincinnati’s population at the time:

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Our drastic decline in population was the result of the riots we don’t think about anymore, a horrendously difficult period of American history when inner-city churches (not Over-the-Rhine, but East Walnut Hills) were being bombed and I remember seeing things on fire from the window of the bus on the way to school.  My family didn’t ever watch the news at night, but survived on black-and-white Leave It to Beaver reruns as so many others made the mad dash to the less-complicated suburbs with its convenient parking.  City leaders had to do something before we turned into a ghost-downtown like St. Louis or Detroit.

That’s when we first stuck our taxpayer-toe in the real estate development biz.  Convention centers were all the rage back then and we built one with a mini-mall complete with its very own food court.

The other day I asked one of my Millennial friends who is very knowledgeable about  the built environment where I could find more information on the history of Convention Place.  He’d never even heard of the thing. Which isn’t surprising.  The mall didn’t last long. Kenwood was much more glamorous, not to mention all the competition from Eastgate and Northgate and Florence and the shopping centers.  But the building still exists and I promised to take pictures to prove it.

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Convention Place is right across the street from the Duke Convention Center, on Elm near the Hyatt..  As you can see from this screenshot of the CAGIS map, the City still owns the property.

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It looks like there might be a couple of businesses leasing space.  But none of them were open the weekday afternoon I walked by – a day that coincided with a game at Riverfront Stadium.  Maybe they are only open at lunch.

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The sign by the front door says the building is the corporate headquarters of Staffmark.

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Has anybody ever been to this lounge? It was locked tighter than a drum for Happy Hour and looked a lot like somebody had staged a set for the All-Star Game.

This post, dear Citizens, is more than a Baby Boomer’s walk down Memory Lane.  It’s a cautionary tale to remind us that the investments we make in our Economic Development are long-term and high risk.  We’ve lived with the ghost of this one for almost fifty years, a good portion of that time without much to show for it in the way of rents or payroll, property and sales taxes – the income that pays our city’s bills..  And according to the picture of our population included above, this deal didn’t do a damn thing to attract new residents.

Big bets = big risks and we live with the consequences of these decisions for a very, very long time.

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4 thoughts on “Does Anybody Else Remember Convention Place Food Court and Shops?

  1. Paul Komarek

    Convention Place Mall was a functional part of downtown until 1990 or so. When Tower Place opened, it was the hot new thing, and a direct competitor. But once big retail left downtown — McAlpins and tje 7th St. Shillitos, and when the 5th and Race Tower was knocked down, and when Cincinnati Bell and Delta pulled their workforce out, and when the Enquirer and others relocated from “old” downtown to 3rd St, that part of the world lost access to steady customers.

    Reply
  2. Blue Ash Mom

    I have only vague memories of Convention Place Mall, I remember the opening of Tower Place Mall much more vividly — I also remember the grand opening for Union Terminal’s short stint as a shopping mall. I was too poor back then to do much shopping so can’t say I spent much time in any of them.

    There was definitely a time when downtown malls were THE thing, every city seemed to have one, or be building one. Some of the ones I remember from other cities weren’t as open to the street as Convention Place Mall, the style back then was to make them like fortresses, lots of blank walls facing the street. I’m not a city planner-type but my impression is that this fad ran its course everywhere. Probably for similar reasons as Paul outlines above.

    Another failed fad I remember was closing streets off and making pedestrian malls — there was one in northern Kentucky, is it still there?

    Reply
    1. paulgibby

      They did that (close off streets and made a mall) in my hometown of Richmond, Indiana after an explosion at Marting Arms (gunpowder and gas mixed in basement). The mall had plastic muschrooms. This was around 1968. Then awhile back 5-10 years? they opened it up to (car) traffic again and the mushrooms (yuck) vanished. #cityplanningfads?

      Reply
  3. executivedreamer Post author

    So – over on Twitter a reader and former real, live reporter for the Enquirer says my dates on the mall are wrong. It was built in 1986. I’m cobbling together my facts and he’s probably right.

    2 questions I want us to think about regardless of what the date is:

    (1) This is definitely a publicly subsidized property. Why don’t we have easy to access information on every single city development project we have ever done? Why does Kathy Holwadel have to play amateur detective and do countless public record requests to the point that I am afraid public administrators could take out a contract on me if I ask for any more?

    (2) Was this a reasonable investment for the city to make? We need to understand what’s worked for us and what hasn’t if we are going to make good decisions going forward. I obviously think we should be much pickier in our choices, that if the open market cannot support a project, the economics aren’t there and it probably shouldn’t be done except in extraordinary circumstances (i.e. our historic building stock where we have allowed roofs to collapse – that should be saved with public subsidy as it is a big part of what makes us special as a community).

    Reply

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