Monday, October 01, 2001

The city's core 'A great place to live'

Homes run a range of styles, prices

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        An estimated 2,000 people showed up Sunday for the third annual “Downtown Tour of Living” event, showcasing many of the new condominiums and renovated lofts Cincinnati hopes will invigorate its slumping downtown housing market.

        Residential vacancy rates downtown have climbed above 8 percent, according to local Realtors, compared to near-zero a year ago.

More than 570 units are planned or being built downtown and in Over-the-Rhine by January 2002.

Studies commissioned by Downtown Cincinnati Inc. show the market can absorb 350 to 400 units a year, but only 151 units were added downtown in 1999.

More than 200 units will be added by the end of this year with renovation of the Emery Center and the Hale-Justis, Power and Krippendorf buildings.

About half of the 41 condo units planned or under construction downtown have been sold, according to DCI.

The city's population has dropped by 9.2 percent since 1990 -- a loss of more than 33,000 residents, according to census estimates.

        A sluggish economy and racial tensions that flared into violent protests in Over-the-Rhine have exacerbated the situation, raising safety concerns among potential downtown renters or buyers.

        But despite the undertones, downtown is still “a great place to live,” said Amy Miller, 28, who moved there a couple of months ago, and was among dozens of downtown residents who opened their homes to the tour.

        Ms. Miller's studio apartment at The Emery Center Apartments on Central Parkway was one of about 20 mostly rental properties in the heart of downtown and nearby Over-the-Rhine on the tour.

        She voluntarily spent most of her day Sunday greeting visitors and answering questions because she wants more people to know the benefits of living downtown.

        “One of the biggest benefits for me is the diversity,” said Ms. Miller, who is white. “I moved from a non-diverse neighborhood in Mt. Lookout to one with a variety of people, not only living in the building but in the neighborhood.”

        Ms. Miller lives only a few blocks from Vine Street in Over- the-Rhine — where much of the violent protest unfolded following the April 7 fatal shooting of Timothy Thomas, who was fleeing police in the historic neighborhood. The acquittal last week of the white Cincinnati officer who shot Mr. Thomas again prompted civil unrest and a citywide curfew.

        But despite the continued tensions between the mostly white police patrols and mostly black residents of Over-the-Rhine, Ms. Miller feels safe.

        “There's such a misconception about what's going on down here,” she said. “I've never had a problem.”

        Prices vary

Rents downtown range considerably in price.

        A two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in the Emery with parking, for example, was listed Sunday at $1,150 per month. By comparison, a similar apartment in Sharonville was listed at $915 per month and one in Ft. Wright at $640.

        Frieda Hughes, who lives on Spring Street in Over-the-Rhine, said, “The people who are upset are not upset with me, they're upset with the police.Why should I be afraid? I think downtown is very safe.”

        It's also vibrant and beautiful thanks to developers who have renovated many old buildings in the area, including the one she was touring at 13th and Clay Streets — a brownstone that has been converted into six loft and studio apartments.

        “It makes me so mad when older buildings are not saved,” Ms. Hughes said. “This is wonderful.”

        Kathy Schwab — residential development adviser for Downtown Cincinnati Inc., which produces the downtown living tour — said despite recent setbacks downtown continues to attract a mix of empty-nesters, young professionals working downtown and suburbanites growing tired of long commutes.

        “There's a great variety of housing stock on tour, and the people who are coming seem to be very excited,” she said.

        Ms. Schwab said Downtown Cincinnati sold 500 tickets in advance to Sunday's tour, which she said was a much-higher number than last year, when 2,000 attended. She did not have exact attendance figures Sunday.


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