Cincinnati, Ohio contains more buildings than any other city in the state of Ohio that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is most evident in Over-the-Rhine, located six blocks north of Fountain Square. The 360-acre neighborhood boasts the largest collection of 19th century Italianate structures in the United States,(1) along with a significant collection of Greek Revival and Renaissance Revival styles, the entire neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 1983.(3)
Regarded as an early German village, the name Over-the-Rhine is derived from its early builders and residents, German immigrants. At the time of the neighborhood’s conception, the Miami and Erie Canal separated the area from downtown Cincinnati, following along what is today Central Parkway. In regard to their native country, the immigrants coined the neighborhood “Over-the-Rhine,” because crossing the canal reminded them of crossing the Rhine River in Germany.(2)
The development of what became Over-the-Rhine began in the early 1800s, as outward growth from the riverfront began to occupy farmlands leading up towards Deer Creek and Mill Creek and the adjoining hills. While the vast majority of settlers and early immigrants were from of English and Scottish ancestry, a bulk of the new arrivals derived from Germany by the 1830s and 1840s.(8) In 1825, the German community consisted of only 25 individuals, but this exploded to 27% of Cincinnati’s population just fifteen years later.(3)(8)
The district became known as an ethnic neighborhood, with over one-half of its residents descending from German heritage by mid-century. Over-the-Rhine had become a focal point of German culture and heritage, complete with its own churches, establishments and German-language publications.(2)
Not all of the city welcomed the residents; some local residents felt that the Germans bared poor influence and blamed the immigrants for the city’s ills. In 1855, a mob attempted to invade the neighborhood, but armed German-American militia units helped disperse the violent mass.(2)
In 1878, Cincinnati Music Hall was completed along Elm Street, opposite Washington Park.(3)
Anti-German sentiment declined during the latter half of the nineteenth century, but increased during World War I and World War II.(2) The city of Cincinnati modified street signs to remove any German influence, banned the teaching of the German language in public schools, and removed German-language publications in public libraries.
Post-World War II
After World War II, Over-the-Rhine declined both culturally and figuratively. Land values decreased and the area became known as a ghetto,(2) a section of town inhabited primarily by African-Americans and Appalachians.(3) It was also known as a migrant district, where incomers resided in affordable housing, seeking work or finding labor where the pay was paltry.(3) The population declined from a high of 44,475 in 1900 to 27,577 in 1960, rising only slightly during the mid-20th century with an arrival of Appalachians.(3) Between 1960 and 1970, the population declined by over 50% to 15,025, and the median household income was only $5,000 per year in 1990, a sharp contrast to Cincinnati’s median of $21,000.(3)(5)
Critics of the neighborhood stated that the flight to the suburbs during the latter-half of the 20th-century was exacerbated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that concentrated disadvantaged people on public assistance in one location.(4) Many were forced to stay regardless of the conditions for fear of losing their subsidized housing. Interstate 75′s construction on the west end only exaggerated the situation.(5)
By 1990, over a quarter of the housing stock in Over-the-Rhine was vacant or abandoned.(3) Alcoholism, drug usage and homelessness had become paramount issues within the community, and over 23,000 calls for service were made in the district. Two-thousand of these were for “part one” crimes that involved murder, rape, robbery and burglary.(4)(5) Numerous neighborhood support programs and an increase in police presence has reduced the crime rate in area dramatically.
During this time, a renaissance was occurring, fueled by a generation of younger professionals and art students who were drawn into Over-the-Rhine for its history and building stock.(5) Nightclubs were the first establishments to open, centered along Main Street on the eastern fringe of the Central District of Over-the Rhine, followed by art galleries and specialty shops. One such instance of the area’s success was St. Theresa Textile Trove, which opened in 1994 and attracted art quilters from across the country.
At the height of the boom, at the start of the 21st century, speculation led many young downtown and uptown professionals to place down-payments on condominium and apartment units that were not yet ready for occupancy.(5) Projects were led by small, independent contractors and businesses.
But on April 7, 2001, Stephen Roach, a white Cincinnati police officer, shot and killed Timothy Thomas, an African-American who had reached down into his pants, possibly in an attempt to pull them up.(5) What ensued was massive rioting that began on April 9. Fires raged from downtown to Norwood; businesses were vandalized and looted; white people were pulled from their cars and beaten.(6)
After the riots, redevelopment plans throughout Over-the-Rhine collapsed. Nightclubs, restaurants and art galleries shuttered, and the popular St. Teresa Textile Trove moved to another neighborhood because customers feared driving into Over-the-Rhine.(5)
Paradoxically, the riots’ may have sped up redevelopment efforts.(5) Thousands of renters that were receiving federal rent subsidies left Over-the-Rhine, and the mass exodus of people left 500 of the 1,200 buildings vacant, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.(5) Property values plummeted, making it easier for developers, such as Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), to purchase large tracts of lots for future redevelopment. Much financing for such projects came from corporate and philanthropic sources, especially in the case of 3CDC, which was formed in 2003 with $80 million raised by Cincinnati’s corporate leaders.(5)
As a result, today Over-the-Rhine is seeing a renaissance. An increasing number of visitors and residents are rediscovering the grandeur and beauty of the Italianate structures, and the benefits of being centrally located only blocks from downtown. With historic Findlay Market boasting shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on the weekends, Main Street becoming a thriving upscale entertainment and bar district, and Ensemble Theater and Music Hall performing to thousands of guests, the once-neglected district is seeing an uptick in population growth and investment.
What may be the biggest threat to revitalization, is not from crime or racial tension, but from the building stock themselves.(5) Many have been vacant or neglected for so long that they are on the verge of collapse. Some that were used as crack houses were simply bulldozed.
Still, some fear that the redevelopments will have an adverse effect on Over-the-Rhine. Concerns regarding gentrification, or the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas, will force out existing residents and social-services agencies.(4)
The Gateway Quarter was a loose term used to describe redevelopment projects completed under the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) in a 110 square block area of Over-the-Rhine bounded by Central Parkway to the south and west, Main Street to the east and Liberty Street to the north.(4)(9) When the OTR Comprehensive Plan was adopted in June 2002, there were 500 vacant buildings, 700 vacant lots and 1,667 vacant housing units in the Gateway Quarter. One of 3CDC’s first projects was to invest $27 million to land bank more than 300 structures and lots, and to stabilize those buildings to prevent further deterioration.
In 2004, 3CDC was the recipient of $50 million in New Market Tax Credits that was used to revitalize Fountain Square and to develop condos and retail space in Over-the-Rhine.(21) The Gateway Quarter plan was publicly revealed on April 4, 2006,(10) when it was announced that 3CDC would launch a $16.8 million redevelopment focusing on Vine Street. 3CDC had acquired around 80 buildings and vacant lots for $8 million,(9)(13) and cleaned, stabilized and secured the structures.(12)
The first project completed was Gateway One, which contained 26 residential units and first floor commercial space. Gateway II, 48 market-rate condominiums and 12 rental units in six buildings near Vine and 12th streets, was the next phase of the Gateway Quarter.(9) 3CDC tapped B2B Equities and Rick Kimbler’s NorthPoint Group to lead the development.(11) B2B Equities, Model Group, Northpointe Group and Urban Sites, who all built and sold other developments in the area on their own, pooled their efforts and resources together in this instance due to the potential critical mass of the project.(15)
After the announcement, 3CDC went before the city council to seek a city grant of $2.4 million,(11) along with $5.8 million in tax-increment financing to secure a total debt of nearly $11 million in private money loans that were made by the Cincinnati Equity Fund.(9) The financing package passed.(15) The goal of the project was to produce at 75 to 100 market rate residential units (13) and 25,000 square-feet of retail space per year.(16) By the summer of 2006, 3CDC had completed 28 new condominiums along Vine Street and was in the process of building 68 more.(14)
On March 27, 2007, 3CDC marketed 93 restored units within one block of 12th and Vine streets, including the Gateway One condominiums, under the banner “Gateway Quarter.”(15) The name was chosen because it was suggestive of the French Quarter.
3CDC gave a proposal to the Cincinnati City Council’s Finance Committee on November 26 regarding a $29.5 million project to extend redevelopment efforts onto Main, Pleasant, Vine, Race and Republic streets.(17) In total, 108 new condominiums would be developed, along with 15,000 square-feet of commercial space. Of the total cost, $25.2 million of the financing would come from residential and commercial new market tax credit loans, although a commitment of $5.3 million from the city would allow 3CDC to move forward. Of this, $3.1 million would be in the form of a city grant, and $2.2 million would come from revenues in two special tax districts in Over-the-Rhine and downtown.(18)
The proposal also would use $2 million for streetscape improvements on Vine Street between Central Parkway and 13th Street, and on 12th and 13th streets between Pleasant and Jackson.(17) The improvements would include burying overhead utilities, installing new light posts, constructing new sidewalks and curbs, and adding new traffic signals and signage.
The Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend to the City Council to consider 3CDC’s request for the financing.(18) On November 29, the City Council agreed unanimously towards the financing package.(19) By this time, 3CDC had in its land bank 120 buildings and 100 vacant lots,(20) although this increased to 128 buildings and 141 vacant lots by the new year.(21)
In February 2008, 3CDC sought $75 million in New Markets Tax Credits to continue redevelopment efforts.(21) A new allocation would allow for 3CDC to further work along Vine Street, and around Washington Park. Prior to this, 3CDC had invested more than $70 million into the district, with $56 million of that coming from private investment through the Cincinnati Equity Fund and the New Markets Tax Credit.
3CDC also submitted 14 applications for Ohio State Historic Preservation Tax Credits, that would have appropriated $6.5 million in a refundable tax credit to construct 63 new residential units and 40,000 square feet of retail space on Main, Vine and Race streets north of 13th Street as part of Phase Three. Proposed was:
- Up to $2.6 million of an estimated $12.1 million plan would redevelop buildings in the 1400 block of Vine and Race streets into nearly 50 condominiums and 8,000 square feet of commercial space.
- Approximately $1.2 million of an estimated $9.7 million proposal to transform the former Elm Industries building at 1539 Race Street into a new headquarters for the Fine Arts Fund, Enjoy the Arts, Art Works and Learning Through Art.
- $7.7 million would be used to renovate the former Warehouse night club on Vine Street.
The applications were rejected in early March.(22)
In early December 2009, the Cincinnati Color Building, Germania Hall and Mercer Commons were granted $7 million in tax credits from the Ohio Department of Development to aid in the renovation of historic buildings.(23) The proposed restoration of the structures were tabulated at more than $38 million. The structures include:
- The Cincinnati Color Building at 1400 Vine Street. The building is to be renovated into the new headquarters for The Model Group, a Walnut Hills-based real estate and development company at a cost of $14.1 million. The first floor will feature retail space, and the second and third floors will be used as office space. The tax credit for this building is worth $1.25 million.(19)
- Germania Hall at 1311 and 1313 Vine Street. The $7 million restoration project includes two structures that will be combined into an enterainment venue with the potential to create up to 189 jobs. The project received a $1.6 million tax credit.(19)
- Mercer Commons received $4.1 million in tax credits to help aid the renovation of 19 historic buildings between Vine and Walnut streets. The project, estimated to cost $18 million, calls for three new mixed-use structures, 13 townhouses, a 240-space parking structure, and the renovation of historic properties into 153 apartments. At least 15,000 square-feet of commercial space is planned, along with community space and a gymnasium.(19)
3CDC’s fifth phase of redevelopment includes the rehabilitation of 18 buildings on Elm, Race and Republic streets at a cost of $29.7 million.(24) The phase will include 65 condominiums, 23 apartments and 17,600 square-feet of retail and office space. Projects include Bakery Lofts at 1421-23 Race Street.
On April 27, 2006, Over-the-Rhine’s nine-year-old Know Theatre relocated to a once-abandoned nightclub one block south of the Art Academy of Cincinnati.(7) Formerly located at the basement of the Salem United Church of Christ at 1425 Sycamore Street, the rationale for the move was to 1120 Jackson Street was to expand operations and to increase revenue. In addition, the operators of the venue wanted to add to a burgeoning arts district near the Gateway Quarter, where developers invested millions in new retail, condominiums and entertainment venues. The operators of the new Kroger garage agreed to provide the theater with discounted parking for its patrons as well.(7)
The move allowed the theater to expand its product offerings, including digital-movie premiers, art showings and cabaret-style entertainment.
Duveneck Flats is located at 1412-1420 Vine Street, and were named for Frank Duveneck, an internationally-known artist and former chairman of the Art Academy of Cincinnati – only one block from the development.
- “Over-the-Rhine.” Travelhost June-July 2008: 16.
- “Over-the-Rhine.” Ohio History Central. 2008. Ohio Historical Society. 18 Aug. 2008 Article.
- “History of Over-the-Rhine.” iRhine. 2007. 21 Aug. 2008 Article.
- Rose, Marla Matzer. “A quiet rebirth in Over-the-Rhine”.” Cincinnati Enquirer, The (OH) March 26, 2006, Final, News: 1A. NewsBank Access World News. (University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky). August 25, 2008. Page.
- Maag, Christopher. “In Cincinnati, Life Breathes Anew in Riot-Scarred Area.” New York Times 25 November 2006. 25 August 2008 Article.
- Horn, Dan. “The riots explode: A city’s dark week.” Cincinnati Enquirer 30 December 2001. 25 August 2008 Article.
- Monk, Dan. “Theater troupe hopes new location brings more funds.” Cincinnati Business Courier 31 March 2006. 25 August 2008.
- Hurley, Daniel. “Oh Visions and Dreams.” Cincinnati: The Queen City. Illus. Michael Isaacs and Eberhard + Eberhard. Ed. Gale E. Peterson, et al. Cincinnati: Cincinnati Historical Society, 1982. 33-73. Print.
- Rose, Marla Matzer. “A quiet rebirth in Over-the-Rhine”.” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 26, 2006, Final, News: 1A. NewsBank Access World News. (University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky). August 25, 2008. Page.
- Wessels, Joe. “Plan restores vacant buildings.” Cincinnati Post, April 5, 2006. August 25, 2008 Article.
- May, Lucy. “The new face of OTR.” Cincinnati Business Courier, April 21, 2006. August 25, 2008.
- May, Lucy. “A neighborhood guy.” Cincinnati Business Courier, April 28, 2006. August 25, 2008 Article.
- May, Lucy. “3CDC sees promise, faces challenges in Over-the-Rhine.” Cincinnati Business Courier, July 7, 2006. August 25, 2008 Article.
- Maag, Christopher. “In Cincinnati, Life Breathes Anew in Riot-Scarred Area.” New York Times 25 November 2006. 25 August 2008 Article.
- Newberry, Jon. “Gateway Quarter debuts.” Cincinnati Enquirer 27 March 2007. 25 August 2008 Article.
- Eclberg, John. “Businesses step into Gateway Corridor.” Cincinnati Enquirer 24 August 2007. 25 August 2008 Article.
- Bernard-Kuhn, Lisa. “Vine St. plan sees 100 condos.” Cincinnati Enquirer 25 November 2007. 25 August 2008 Article.
- Bernard-Kuhn, Lisa. “OTR plan gets early nod.” Cincinnati Enquirer 26 November 2007. 25 August 2008 Article.
- Prendergast, Jane. “More condos, bigger Millworks win approval.” Cincinnati Enquirer 29 November 2007. 25 August 2008 Article.
- Pipoly, Geoff. “Opening gates for future development.” Downtowner (Cincinnat) 8 January 2008. 25 August 2008 Article.
- May, Lucy. “3CDC pursuing $81M in federal, state tax credits.” Cincinnati Business Courier 8 Feb. 2008. 25 Aug. 2008 Article.
- Bernard-Kuhn, Lisa. “State uses up historic preservation grant money.” Cincinnati Enquirer 15 March 2008. 25 Aug. 2008 Article.
- Bernard-Kuhn, Lisa. “3 OTR projects win Ohio tax credits.” Cincinnati Enquirer 10 Dec. 2009. 17 Dec. 2009.
- Lemaster, Kevin. “Bakery Lofts adds 9 homeownership units to OTR.” Building Cincinnati 8 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. Article.