Downtown Hamilton reimagining center city through development and arts

The city of Hamilton is often thought of as a prototypical city of Ohio’s industrial past.  This is certainly true historically, but this former industrial town on Cincinnati’s north side is working aggressively on new policies and initiatives that will change the way the city functions and, hopefully, its image at the same time.

This re-imaging focuses the strategic efforts of city planners and community activists on the city's center including the historic neighborhood of Rossville as well as the downtown districts of Hamilton on the western and eastern banks of the Great Miami River, respectively.

These historic centers of activity not only provide the city a context to work from, but they also possess the rare amenity of available riverfront property.  “We’re focusing our energy and efforts on the core of the city, and hope to build out from there,” says senior planner John Creech.

The city recently began work on expanding its arts community which has, thus far,  been embodied by the opening of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts on the south side of downtown. The effort has also seen the  installation of multiple sculptural art throughout downtown, earning the moniker, the "City of Sculpture.”

Currently, the newest effort, ArtSpace, which will establish 35 units of artist live/work space in Hamilton’s urban core. Creech says the City is working on a feasibility study and hopes to submit a grant application to the state of Ohio for tax credits by Spring of 2010.

The ArtSpace program started in Minneapolis and has since spread throughout the nation with much success.  At this point, Hamilton is the first community in Ohio to commit this level of resource to the concept.

The City is also working on the development of a new two-acre riverfront park and urban amphitheatre.  The project site is part of an eight-acre redevelopment project that will also extend the Great Miami River Recreation Trail through the heart of downtown Hamilton.

Creech says the city is currently reviewing qualifications for design firms and is still filling remaining funding gaps, but hopes that progress will be made within the next year.  The two-acre park and amphitheatre will lead to the River's Edge development project, brininging high-density urban-living back to Hamilton’s downtown and riverfront.

Downtown Hamilton has also seen itsprominent riverfront hotel completely renovated.  The 120-room Courtyard by Mariott has 7,000 square feet of meeting space, an outdoor patio overlooking the river, an extended bike path through the site and features the new Amici’s Italian Bistro.

Numerous other locally-owned businesses have opened creating a sense of optimism among local residents. Ryan’s Tavern in downtown and Riverbank Café in historic Rossville are among local favorites.

“The river is extremely important and unique,” says Creech who says efforts will continue to redefine this city with an important industrial past and a promising artistic future.

Writer: Randy Simes
Source: John Creech, senior planner, City of Hamilton Community Development Department
Photography by Randy Simes
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