Monday, June 04, 2001

Northside business district gets facelift

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Gwen Finegan has heard stories of a Hamilton Avenue so crowded with Saturday shoppers that people could barely fit on the sidewalk.

        She doesn't expect a nearly $2 million investment by the city of Cincinnati to turn the Northside business district into a shopping mecca.

        But Ms. Finegan is counting on new street lamps, trees and a renovated park to help revitalize the seven-block business district known for its eclectic mix of shops and restaurants.

        “I hope it will encourage people to dream a little bit,” Ms. Finegan said. “If we all have a collective belief the neighborhood is coming back, then it will happen.”

        City leaders and neighborhood advocates joined Friday to dedicate the updated Hoffner Park and streetscape improvements along Hamilton Avenue.

        The Department of Economic Development, through its Neighborhood Business District Program, spent $1.4 million for sidewalks, historic street lights, decorative pavers and signs.

        The Cincinnati Park Board put another $589,000 in renovating the two-acre Hoffner Park. A pavilion, playground and trees were added. The park was redesigned to make it look like an old-fashioned town green with a large lawn perfect for picnics or community festivals, said Steven Schuckman, superintendent of planning and design for the Cincinnati Park Board.

        “The park looks wonderful,” said Judy Hoebbel, 43, of Northside. “Before it was just a ball field and a couple of benches. ... (The renovations) make the whole area

        look a lot better.”

        Ms. Hoebbel, a bookkeeper for Boca restaurant in the Northside business district, said she hopes the improvements encourage more people to visit or invest in the area.

        Like many urban areas, Hamilton Avenue had started to look rundown and dirty before the improvements. Now, it's less scary for potential customers, she said. The streets are cleaner and more inviting.

        “The better it looks, the more likely (people) will want to purchase or rent a building,” Ms. Hoebbel said.

        When Ms. Finegan moved to Northside in 1984, she was looking for a community where she could walk to the grocery, post office and library. Over the years, she discovered Northside had a unique character borne from a strong sense of community with an urban twist.

        “In warm weather, you can't get any yard work done because everybody stops to talk,” she said.

        The librarians, pharmacist and mail carriers all know the resi dents by name.

        “It's like small-town America with all the advantages of being in the city,” she said.

        She wanted to preserve the community and encourage an economic renaissance. In the past decade, Ms. Finegan has written and received nearly $3 million in grant proposals. She started asking for city money for Hoffner Park and Hamilton Avenue in 1990.

        “I discovered the hard way that if you keep asking for the same things over and over again, eventually you'll get it,” she said.

        During Friday's event, three longtime residents were honored for their commitment to the community. Three sycamore trees were planted at Hoffner Park in honor of Inez Bail, Mary Jackson and Alma Voelckl.

        Although pleased with the recognition, Mrs. Jackson, 83, said helping out a community should be an obligation for all residents.

        “When you live in a community, you should feel responsible,” she said. “Who else is going to do it for you, if you're not going to do it yourself?”


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