Top 10 trends & newsmakers on our radar for 2016

Turn and face the strange
Just gonna have to be a different man.
Time may change me,
But I can't trace time.

The news of David Bowie’s death certainly allows for reflection on changes as the new year gets going. And the Bengals’ meltdown against the hated Steelers offers a cautionary tale about focus (or lack thereof).
We know there will be changes in 2016 — there always are — but will Cincinnati have the collective discipline and desire to focus on changes that promote growth, positive momentum and success for all citizens? Will we aspire to the creativity and innovation Bowie represented, or will we get distracted by petty squabbling a la Vontaze Burfict?
As the blind man said, we’ll see.
Here are 10 key Greater Cincinnati stories waiting to be told in 2016.
Neighborhoods on the move
Walnut Hills is certainly a prime candidate for hottest neighborhood in 2016, as years of rallying community engagement, strategic partnerships and development investors are finally paying off. The iconic Paramount Building at Gilbert & McMillan received $2 million in Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credits in December and begins its transformation this year.
Covington celebrated its bicentennial last year but won’t lose any momentum in 2016, as signature projects move along in the Madison & Pike district with complementary small redevelopment from entrepreneurs and fun public activations. Other active areas include 12th Street around the under-construction Hellmann Creative Center and up-and-coming Westside, both boosted by investment from the Center for Great Neighborhoods.
High-profile redevelopment projects have the potential to rejuvenate more neighborhoods in 2016, including Price Hill (Incline Theater and Masonic Lodge), Newport (Aqua on the Levee) and Northside (The Gantry). Developers are working with community leaders in College Hill, Madisonville and Corryville/Mt. Auburn to identify ways to continue momentum from 2015.
New hot pockets in Over-the-Rhine
Over-the-Rhine is known for its crowd-pleasing residential and business districts along Vine and Main streets and around Washington Park. Lesser-known pockets will vie for developer dollars and public support in 2016.
Findlay Market is one of Cincinnati’s premier landmarks, a popular neighborhood shopping and gathering spot before any of those three OTR districts began their recent renaissance. But the market area will finally get its investment due this year, as the Model Group launches its huge Race Street project, the Cincinnati Streetcar starts running and Rhinegeist expands.
The nearby Brewery District has been gaining momentum, and the first phase of its Heritage Trail (along with a smartphone app) will open in 2016. There’s still not a lot of redevelopment interest yet along the McMicken Avenue corridor, but Brad Cooper’s two tiny homes will attract attention when they’re completed this year.
A number of new residential developments have been announced along a quiet stretch of the streetcar route on Elm Street, including projects from Towne Properties, Daniels Homes and Karvoto. Many of the units are expected to open in 2016.
On the eastern side of OTR, the plan for Zeigler Park is approved and work continues on the old SCPA building across the street. New businesses and residential projects keep popping up in adjacent Pendleton.
Next steps for Cincinnati parks and related development
The Cincinnati Parks tax plan failed on Election Day in November, victim of too few details and too many political shenanigans. City Councilmembers who opposed the plan promised to find other funds to support some of the worthiest projects touted with the tax plan, so we’ll see how that works out in 2016.
Hanging in the balance are city support for the Wasson Way bike/hike trail from Xavier University to Mariemont, Inwood Park improvements as part of Uptown Rental Properties’ redevelopment plans in Mt. Auburn, updates at Burnet Woods in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati, rescue of the original King Records facility in Evanston and several more projects. A new concert amphitheater at Smale Riverfront Park, which likely would have been funded by the parks tax, is being discussed in various circles.
Cincinnati Streetcar gets rolling
It’s been a long time coming, but the city’s first modern streetcar line is set to debut in September. Training runs will continue in the meantime, operating hour details will be finalized and naming rights will be sold to the vehicles and stations, and then we’ll see if anyone rides the damn thing.
An impressive amount of private money has flowed into development projects along the streetcar line, exactly as streetcar supporters predicted. Those folks will certainly press throughout 2016 to expand the system up the hill to the University of Cincinnati, as per the original plan, and to coordinate service to improve the region’s lagging public transit efforts.
Region remains thirsty for craft beer expansion
The spigot of news about new craft beer breweries and taprooms slowed a little toward the end of last year, but there’s still plenty to get excited about heading into 2016. Soapbox recently reported on Queen City Brewery of Cincinnati planning to open in Blue Ash this fall.
This year will see the warm weather debuts of Rhinegeist’s new outdoor deck and Fifty West’s new cycling center. Mad Tree has announced a huge expansion in Oakley, which will get underway in 2016.
Nine Giant will finally be opening in Pleasant Ridge, while Weidemann continues to work out details to open a brewery and taproom in its ancestral home, Newport.
Work begins on arts & culture icons old and new
In 2014 supporters of the “icon tax” to renovate Music Hall and Union Terminal faced off against Hamilton County Commissioners, who, thanks to Greg Hartmann’s last-minute change of heart, wanted to strip Music Hall from the prospective sales tax hike. Music Hall should find private funds to do its work, Hartmann and Chris Monzel said; Hartmann would pay for double-crossing the town’s arts backers, many said in reply.
It seemingly all worked out in the end, as private funds came through and renovation of Music Hall shifts into high gear this summer, while the “icon tax” to fund Union Terminal reconstruction passed easily. Hartmann announced he wouldn’t run for re-election and actually left office a year early.
At some point in 2016 arts and culture supporters will see construction cranes at Union Terminal, Music Hall and nearby Memorial Hall, undergoing its own renovation. Half a block away, Cincinnati Shakespeare will be digging a hole for its new theater, and two blocks east Ensemble Theatre will work on expanding its existing facility to adjacent buildings.
Entrepreneurial scene goes national
The Soapbox headline last month said it all: “2015 was a huge year for Cincinnati innovation.” More than a dozen incubator and accelerator organizations helped guide local, national and international entrepreneurs along startup paths to their futures, with help from area universities, medical centers, corporations and governments.
National media took notice, remarking on the combination of Greater Cincinnati’s startup support, strong urban amenities and cheap cost of living driving interest in the local entrepreneurial scene and producing success stories.
Techstars Ventures, the Colorado-based accelerator known for investments in companies like Uber and GroupMe, teamed up with Cintrifuse last year and seems interested in bringing its annual FounderCon event here in October. So expect even more focus on Cincinnati’s startup ecosystem in 2016.
Ohio political races reach fever pitch
This will be a big election year, of course, as Ohio once again chooses the President. Hamilton County likely will be the key swing county in the key swing state, so expect a barrage of TV commercials and candidate appearances over the next nine months.
Two other election battles will be closely watched and bitterly fought: Ohio’s U.S. Senate race between incumbent Rob Portman and either ex-Gov. Ted Strickland or City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, which could decide which party controls the Senate, and the Hamilton County Commission seat formerly held by Hartmann, pitting newly-installed Dennis Deters against State Rep. Denise Driehaus to determine which party will control county government. As politicians like to say, elections have consequences.
Young leaders keep pushing change
One of my delights serving as Soapbox managing editor throughout 2015 was driving the effort to introduce readers to young people making a difference in Greater Cincinnati. There’s nothing more inspirational that seeing a young person step out of his or her comfort zone to be the change they want to see here instead of waiting for someone else to act or leaving for greener pastures.
I encourage you to get to know these “next generation” leaders we profiled in 2015, if you don’t already: Nickol Mora, Eddy Kwon, Daryn Hillhouse, Abdullah Powell, Kevin Wright, Joe Nickol, Brad Schnittger, Krista Taylor, Mary Jo Minerich, Michelle Dillingham, Drew Oxley, Clara Matonhodze, Rachel Roberts, Torie Wiggins, Lauren Mancini, James Marable, C. Jacqueline WoodHayes Shanesy, Rosie Kovacs, Jason Snell, Chris Strobel, Sara Drabik, Jena Bradley, Paul Strickland, Joi Sears, Derrick Braziel, Libby Willig-Kroner and P.G. Sittenfeld.
And expect to hear more from them — and lots of others — in 2016.
Childhood poverty is no longer a secret
Nearly half of children in the city of Cincinnati live below the federal poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a shameful figure in a city with so much positive momentum and growth (as seen in all categories above). City government is partnering with local business, nonprofit and religious leaders to finally address the dire situation in 2016.
The numbers are daunting and the personal stories behind them are heartbreaking, but the community effort needs to start somewhere. Perhaps lessons can be gleaned from the public-private partnership between Strategies to End Homelessless and 3CDC that helped reduce the city’s number of homeless people by building new and improved shelters that allowed for new and improved services.
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Read more articles by John Fox.

John Fox is an experienced freelance writer and editor who served as managing editor of Soapbox from December 2014 to August 2016.