Over-the-Rhine

The Challenge

Over-the-Rhine (OTR) in Cincinnati is the largest intact national historic district and the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the country. Unfortunately, it has also been plagued by some significant problems.

The OTR district was ranked one of the 11 most endangered districts in America by the National Trust for Historic Places. As of 2003, OTR had a 4% home ownership rate, the lowest by far of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. Commercial life had been drained from the neighborhood over time due to deteriorating building stock and a decades-long over-concentration of low income housing. Revitalization efforts were isolated and largely ineffective.

The neighborhood reached its low point in 2005, weighed down by high crime and loss of population (about 5,000 residents—down from over 50,000 at the turn of the 19th century).

The Development Solution

  • Beginning in 2003, Model began working with the City and several local non-profit partners including OTR Community Housing, to address the existing affordable housing situation. There was an over-concentration of low income housing in the neighborhood, and the existing residential stock was generally of low standards. Between 2003 and 2008, Model secured funding for the complete gut rehabilitation of eight affordable housing developments, which represents $57 million invested; 880 jobs created; 73 historic buildings restored; and, 383 units of top quality housing.
  • From the Broken Windows Theory perspective, this historic redevelopment eliminated 73 sources of blight and created safe avenues for other future funding sources. On average, this development also reduced the total amount of low income housing units by 30%, eliminating many substandard small one-bedroom and efficiency units that were substantially vacant and not conducive to residents’ quality of life.
  • Most importantly, this development transformed noticeable low quality, low income ‘housing of last resort’ into top quality housing that was indistinguishable from market rate apartments—including all the same amenities of hardwood flooring, ceramic tile kitchens and baths, new appliances and HVAC systems, and open floor plans. In fact, it remains the only affordable housing development ever to participate in the prestigious Cincinnati, Ohio Downtown Tour of Living, and received an award from the local Chamber for ‘Best Development of the Year.’
  • Also in 2003, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) was created by the City of Cincinnati and the city’s largest corporate leaders in order to help revitalize the urban core. 3CDC’s OTR involvement focused on a 25-square block area adjacent to the central business district and anchored by Music Hall, Washington Park, the reputed School for Creative and Performing Arts, and many other arts and theater organizations. However, there were only four homeowners in this 25-block area, and one of the main intersections alone had over 500 police calls in the prior year. 3CDC immediately began land banking over 230 vacant parcels in the target area.
  • With the existing affordable housing stock undergoing an appropriate reduction and transformation, 3CDC began to redevelop its land banked properties. In 2005 and 2006, it began working with three developers, including the Model Group, to create over 200 for-sale residential condos, market rental units, and nearly 55,000 square feet of ground floor commercial space.
  • Model worked with the other developers to create a unified brand umbrella and a sense of place for the newest district of OTR, named the ‘Gateway Quarter’.’ The Gateway Quarter Sales and Information Center opened in March 2007 and has subsequently seen three consecutive years of the best real estate sales activity in the region during a down economy.
  • 59 of the condo units were developed in four projects by the Model Group, including twelve separate buildings. As of early 2010, two of the projects were sold out.
  • Sources of funds include: New Markets Tax Credits, HOME loans, CDBG loans, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, Federal Stimulus funds, developer equity, private investment, non-profit grants, Federal Historic Tax Credits, State Historic Tax Credits.
  • Partners: 3CDC, City of Cincinnati, Ohio Housing Finance Agency, Link Realty, Northpointe Group, B2B Equities, Urban Sites Properties, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing.

The Construction Solution

  • Major demolition, structural stabilization, historic renovation, adaptive reuse, new construction, townhouses and flats.
  • Cantilevered decks, roof-top decks, custom staircases, unique ceiling and lighting systems; metal, wood and concrete construction.
  • Replacement of 18 feet of bad soil while structurally stabilizing adjacent 130 year-old buildings and foundations (due to massive soil problems).
  • Juxtaposition of new buildings connected to completely renovated historic structures.
  • Commercial tenant improvements and build-outs.

The renaissance in OTR is being hailed as one of the most remarkable revitalization stories in the United States. The mixed income community has become much more balanced; has seen dramatic progress toward the saving of its historic fabric with this new investment; has seen the opening of over 20 new commercial businesses and restaurants in three years; has witnessed occupancy and homeownership rates climbing quickly; and, has experienced the neighborhood’s crime rates steadily plummeting.

In fact, the corner of 12th and Vine, which at one point had over 500 police calls during 2005, had the low number of seven police calls in 2006, and zero in 2007. The neighborhood’s reputation has seen a 180-degree turn.

In addition to the affordable housing investment, Model and 3CDC combined have invested over $96 million since 2003. In 2010, with the Model Group as a partner, 3CDC will be investing another $62 million, including two new parking garages, a renovated Washington Park, and another 200-plus residential units. A new school will open in the fall of 2010, dramatic streetscaping is in progress, and the Model Group is planning to move its corporate headquarters into the neighborhood.