Sunday, March 05, 2000

Avondale emerges from ashes

Rehab efforts gaining steam

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In 1968, Annie Moore walked through the ashes of what had been a business district the day before. It had the smell of death, she said.

        What she saw were the ruins of a drug store, a liquor store, a fruit market, a furniture store and an apartment complex — remnants of a riot the night of April 8, 1968.

        She was standing in the heart of Avondale at Rockdale and Reading.

        “I had the feeling it would never be rebuilt,” Mrs. Moore said.

        But Mrs. Moore has seen parts of Avondale refurbished through a non-profit housing development corporation. It has taken more than 20 years, but the Avondale Redevelopment Corp. has pumped in $13 million since 1979 to plan and complete five housing projects, two office buildings and one business in its efforts to rebuild a neighborhood.

        Three other housing projects are under construction at a cost of $12.6 million. The corporation has generat ed funds from city loans and grants; private loans and foundation grants.

        “We have been able to take the money we received from the city and leverage it to get private loans from banks,” said Jim King, director of Avondale Redevelopment Corp.

        Mrs. Moore can see rebirth as she sits in her living room with salmon colored walls and contemporary living room furniture at Reading Road and Prospect Place.

        She owns one of the 25 units in the Reading Green Condominiums, an urban, upscale housing model built 10 years ago on land that had been vacant for a decade. It has become the flagship project for recapturing home ownership.

        The corporation's achievements are an example of how public and private funds should be spent to rebuild a neighborhood, said David Varady, who teaches urban planning at the University of Cincinnati.

        “I think the strategy they have chosen of developing va cant land for housing is good,” Mr. Varady said.

        But he sees a big challenge for the corporation, especially in commercial revitalization.

Board formed
        The idea of a redevelopment corporation came from the Avondale Community Council, which organized a 10-member board of Avondale residents and city officials to form the housing group.

        Mr. King said the board gave the corporation a mission to attract people back to Avondale. He said the condos gave many people a chance to stay and some a chance to come back to the neighborhood they had fled.

        Little progress was made in the first 10 years after the riot. The Avondale Community Council began drafting a plan for a town center at Rockdale and Reading. Those plans started a long journey through city hall in mid 1970.

        The $2.75 million center was completed in 1982 after the city provided $900,000, and the rest obtained from banks and foundation grants.

        “We were part of the planning and the corporation was responsible for getting tenants for the town center,” Mr. King said. Though struggling to survive, the center serves as the nucleus for Avondale's rebirth.

        Most of the riot damage was at the Rockdale-Reading and Burnet Avenue business districts, but the effect spread throughout Avondale. Many businesses that were not damaged moved and many home owners sold. Avondale's population dropped from 22,958 in 1970 to 18,736 in 1990.

        A sense of community and home ownership had been destroyed. Parts of a community had died. Much of the rest was barely surviving and crime had taken up residence.

        “We had to restructure and renew the whole concept of home ownership in Avondale,” Mr. King said. “People had gone through a period where they saw a riot that destroyed most of the neighborhood businesses. They saw other businesses moving out. In some areas, the trend was to sell your home as fast as you can and get out of Avondale.”

        Within that 20-year period, about 800 buildings became vacant.

        “One of our biggest problems has been obtaining land and right of way to some properties to build,” Mr. King said.

        The $6.3 million Spring House Estates project has been delayed for two years by difficulties gaining access to the property through a private street. The city finally reached an agreement with residents of Spring House Lane last year to repair and make the street a public access.

        The revitalization also has resulted in a more intense effort to fight crime.

        Tom Jones, a businessman who has moved to Avondale on Rockdale Avenue, is director of the Avondale Public Safety Task Force, which is working with Cincinnati Police to chase out criminals.

        The task force has asked city hall to ban people from the area who commit crimes and don't live there. Police records showed that of 335 arrests made last year, 275 did not live in Avondale.

Condos the first
        The two- and three-bedroom condominiums at Reading Green were targeted for people with annual incomes of $18,000 to $35,000. The first phase contained 15 units and sold for $56,000 to $63,000.

        The city sold the land to the corporation for $1. The corporation sold the land to a management association. Homeowners own their building and the contents.

        The $1.1 million, first phase of Reading Green was completed November 1989. The city kicked in $350,000 of federal community development funds. The corporation obtained a $785,000 loan from PNC Bank.

        The $1.2 million, second phase of Reading Green with 12 units was completed September 1993. It was targeted for people making $20,000 to $35,000 annual income. The condos sold for $62,500 to $66,000.

        It was funded by $202,000 from the city and a $744,000 loan from Provident Bank.

        The success of the Reading Green Condominiums established the competence of the corporation as well as built confidence among residents that Avondale could again be a safe place to live, Mr. King said.

        That reputation has been recognized by local banks interested in participating in community development projects. About 80 percent of the project funding came from banks such as Fifth Third, Firstar, PNC, Provident, Bank One and Key Bank.

        Fifth Third provided a $730,250 loan to help fund the $1.2 million Harvey Point Townhomes at 541 and 543 Glenwood Ave., and 3587-3615 Harvey Ave., Avondale. The townhomes were completed in May 1997.

        This method of financial packaging used in the Reading Green project proved to be workable, Mr. King said. The next example was Cedar Meadows I at 200-332 Glenwood Ave., which was built on the old WCIN parking lot.

        The city gave the corporation a $793,000 grant for the project. The corporation obtained a $1.8 million loan from Provident, Firstar and Fifth Third Banks.

        The $2.6 million, 28-unit project was completed in August 1993. It targeted people with incomes of $18,000 to $35,000. The two- and three-bedroom units sold for $77,500 to $93,500. Residents of Cedar Meadows I own the land as well as the building.

        Cedar Meadows II, a 20-unit, $2.8 million project, targeting people who earn $40,000 yearly, is scheduled for completion in July.

        The condos at Cedar Meadows II will sell for $119,500.

        Mr. King said Spring House Estates at the end of Spring House Lane are designed to attract people with $95,000 to $150,000 annual incomes.

        The 17-unit Spring House Estates are scheduled to be completed April 2001. The units will have an average sale price of $350,000.

        One of the most visible examples of the corporation's rebuilding process is a 50-unit senior-citizens project under construction at 3601 Reading Road on land that was vacant nearly 20 years.

        The seniors building, known as AvonView Apartments, is scheduled for completion in July. The city is providing a $40,000 grant. Total project cost is $3.4 million. Bank One loaned the corporation 3.3 million for the project. The corporation received $5,519 in foundation money.


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