Development along W. Fourth Street brings about a resurgence for the neighborhood

A stroll down W. Fourth Street downtown felt very different at the turn of the 20th century. For the better part of the city’s history, W. Fourth between Vine Street and Central Avenue was the epicenter of a bustling and lively urban core. Luxury department stores like the George A. McAlpin Company, H&S Pogue and the Gidding-Jenny Company were the places to go for high-end fashion and home goods. 4th & Vine Tower, then the home of the Union Central Life Insurance Company, was once the fifth tallest building in the world, and the second tallest outside of New York City.

Much of the building stock on W. Fourth was constructed in the 1860s in the Italianate style. The architecture retains historical significance, and 32 of the buildings on the street were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Though the area is brimming with beautiful architecture and value, according to David Ginsburg, the CEO of Downtown Cincinnati Inc., it still experienced a period of decline in the 1990s.

The decline is linked to a variety of factors, but the move toward building less pedestrian-friendly environments was a big one.

“As the suburbs developed and people left the urban core, city centers tried to fight fire with fire by recreating the suburbs downtown,” Ginsburg says. “They did things like build skywalk systems that got people off the ground level, and they got slower moving vehicles like bicycles off the streets.”

Tower Place Mall, the former shopping promenade at the intersection of W. Fourth and Race, opened in 1991 and proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to bring that suburban shopping experience to the city center.

“The suburban model just doesn’t speak to the street,” Ginsburg says. The mall was finally shuttered in 2013, and the City of Cincinnati then purchased Tower Place, as well as Pogue’s Garage across the street, later that year.

In 2014, the former Tower Place Mall was given another chance at life when it reopened as Mabley Place, a 775-space parking garage and retail space (which will soon be home to a high-end health club called Inner Fire Fitness).

After an extensive four-year planning process, demolition began this month on Pogue’s Garage. The redevelopment at the corner of W. Fourth and Race is a long time coming, Ginsberg says.

“Pogue’s Garage had a negative impact on the street. The pedestrian experience involved walking under an overhang, and people never feel comfortable walking under overhangs. The ground floor was ignored, and there was nothing interesting to see as you walked by."

Once the demolition of the garage is completed, a new $82 million mixed-use building will be constructed. Ultimately, the project will add 700-spaces of parking and 23,000 square feet of commercial space, all managed by 3CDC. Indianapolis-based Flaherty & Collins Properties will own and operate 225 units of apartment housing on the upper floors of the building.

“This is a key strategic and historical location,” Ginsburg says. “Redeveloping the site will better connect east and west, and north and south.”

The resurgence on W. Fourth also extends to new retailers and offices coming to the area.

“We have this nucleus of interesting, unique retail springing up,” Ginsburg says.

Retailers along W. Fourth include a Bang & Olufsen electronics store; Bromwell’s fireplace, furniture and art gallery; the newly-opened Switch Lighting & Design; and Koch’s Sporting Goods. Next door is Main Auction Galleries, an auction house that was started in 1870 and is the oldest in the region. Sleepy Bee Cafe is slated to open their third breakfast and lunch restaurant at 8 W. Fourth in late 2016.

A number of offices are also located on W. Fourth, including the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, The Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the headquarters of FC Cincinnati.

All of this renewed attention to the street is part of what Ginsburg refers to as a move toward “walkable urbanity.”

“We are going back to an authentic, unique, dense, mixed-use city center,” he says. “You want a walkable city — the higher the walkability, the higher the value of the real estate and the more vibrancy there is. We are going back to the old days, and W. Fourth Street is the poster child for the process.”
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Read more articles by Kamal Kimball.

Kamal Kimball is a freelance writer and co-founder of Ampersand Creative Services.