Hot 'Hoods: Madisonville

This week marks the final installment of our Hot 'Hoods series, featuring neighborhoods poised for growth in 2014. We asked key community members from Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky to share their insights on how they expect their communities to develop this year.

It’s April 2012 and 200 people are gathered at the Madisonville Recreation Center. They’ve come to share their hopes and dreams for the neighborhood. They’ve come to answer the question, “What does Madisonville want to be in 10 years?”

Neighborhoods are rarely asked this aspirational question; we’re usually saddled with the realities of solving problems, like cleaning up corners and fighting foreclosures. But on that night in 2012, young, old, black, white, newcomers and longtime residents stood up and expressed the same dreams for the neighborhood: a thriving business district, clean streets, jazz clubs, restaurants, a coffee shop, healthy foods, hike/bike trails, world class schools, a new health center, more opportunities for socializing, and a focus on Madisonville’s artisan heritage, rich history and culture.

One person called Madisonville “The Soul of Cincinnati,” and another declared, “A child from Madisonville will one day grow up to be President of the United States.” Yes, we’ve set the bar high.

As the City of Cincinnati’s northeasternmost neighborhood, Madisonville is surrounded by stable communities like Madeira, Mariemont, Oakley and Hyde Park. We’re conveniently located and can get downtown or to northern suburbs in minutes. My family bought our home in Madisonville 11 years ago for many of the same reasons others do: the convenient location, the affordable housing stock, the natural and comfortable diversity, the abundant green space, the family-friendly atmosphere and the opportunity to be a part of a neighborhood’s turnaround. 

Many of Madisonville's residents are deeply rooted, with generations and extended families living right around the corner from one another. It’s also a place that welcomes newcomers easily, no matter where you’re from.

For more than 200 years, people have settled in Madisonville to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Incorporated in 1809 as the town of Madison and annexed to the City of Cincinnati in 1911, Madisonville was an active, lively community for most of its history. In the 1960s, as retail and housing preferences began to change, the neighborhood’s population declined and the thriving commercial center started to decay. But now a confluence of factors suggest that Madisonville’s future is bright.

Economic Development
In 2008, the City of Cincinnati and the Chamber of Commerce published the “Growth and Opportunities Study” naming the Madison Road corridor a focal area for economic development efforts. At the same time, the City of Cincinnati began to purchase property in the heart of the business district at Madison and Whetsel in preparation for new development. We now have close to five blocks of developable property in friendly control and a new form-based code to ensure future development enhances the already walkable neighborhood.

In addition, we’re seeing significant private investment from companies such as Medpace, Gorilla Glue, Coca-Cola, Fifth Third Bank and Integra Life Sciences, bringing new jobs, residents, tax dollars and feet on the street. Small businesses like The French Rendezvous, Stephan Woodworking, Ron D’s BBQ, Mazunte Taqueria, Madison Bowl and BBQ Revue make Madisonville a destination for unique experiences.

Community Engagement
After the April 2012 visioning event, residents and stakeholders spent the next seven months outlining strategies to make Madisonville the neighborhood of our dreams. We unveiled the city’s first Quality-of-Life Plan in November 2012, designed to be the neighborhood’s roadmap for the future.

Knowing that real estate development alone will not transform the neighborhood, the plan addresses initiatives like health and wellness, arts and culture, economic development, education and youth, community engagement and the built environment. Working groups are actively pushing forward the ideas and plans articulated by their neighbors. Volunteers are building relationships, developing leaders, inviting others to become involved. At the end of the day, we know that an engaged community is the key to making lasting change.

The nonprofit Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (MCURC) hired staff for the first time in its 39-year history and opened an office in April 2013. Thanks to the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), the place matters initiative, and the City of Cincinnati, the staff of three is charged with leading the implementation of the Quality-of-Life Plan hand in hand with residents and stakeholders.

Some of the neighborhood’s recent accomplishments include:
  • Partnering with the City of Cincinnati to acquire nearly seven acres of developable property at the corner of Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue
  • Advocating for the passage of the Madisonville form-based code, which replaces the traditional zoning code and allows for future development to be mixed-use, with retail, commercial, office and residential spaces occupying the same development.
  • Completing a feasibility study for a new, 12,000-square-foot wellness center as part of a mixed-use development, including retail space and nearly 100 apartments in the heart of the neighborhood business district
  • Establishing the Madisonville Community Entertainment District
  • Reopening the Madisonville Arts and Cultural Center, hosting sold-out jazz performances and other musical and theatrical events
  • Selling nearly 200 tickets to the Madisonville Garden Tour, initiating an annual Curb Appeal competition to encourage front-yard gardening and seeing more than 200 residents participate in clean-up days throughout the year
  • Ensuring every child in Madisonville is enrolled in high-quality preschool by partnering with John P. Parker School, the Children’s Home of Cincinnati, 4C for Children and the Madisonville Education and Assistance Center to implement the “Madisonville Pipeline to Children’s Success”
  • Partnering with Queen City Bike and the City of Cincinnati to revive the Little Duck Creek Trail Plan and work toward implementation
  • Establishing the Madisonville Youth Community Council
  • Hosting the first ever Madisonville 5K
  • Celebrating academic gains and the creation of the only Latin magnet program in Cincinnati Public Schools at John P. Parker School, the neighborhood’s public elementary school
  • Creating the Madisonville My Block program, a network of block clubs and block watches
In 2014, Madisonville will continue to do great things. We will:
  • Recruit and select a developer for Phase 1 of Madisonville’s business district redevelopment
  • Complete rehab on the historic bank building
  • Launch “500 Gardens in Madisonville,” to bring about 500 food-producing gardens in the neighborhood
  • Partner with the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation to develop new housing on vacant lots
  • Promote the Madison/Whetsel corridor and recruit new businesses to the neighborhood
  • Open the Madisonville Arts and Cultural Center on a regular basis as the center for neighborhood innovation and creativity
  • Announce the Madisonville Aging in Place Initiative
  • Facilitate opportunities for residents to build relationships through community events like winter soup parties, block parties and community events
With engaged residents, an achievable plan, a set of tools to spur revitalization and dozens of committed partners, Madisonville’s hopes and dreams are poised to come true. Won’t you join us on this exciting journey? Come along!
Sara M. Sheets is the executive director of the revived Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation. Sheets holds a B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan University and an M.A. in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a former Teach For America Corps Member. She and her husband bought a home in Madisonville in 2003 and are raising two children in the neighborhood.

Do you live or work in Madisonville? Share what you love best about Madisonville on Facebook (Soapbox Cincinnati) or Twitter (@SoapboxCincy).

Check out the other neighborhoods featured in this series:
Walnut Hills
Price Hill

Learn more about what's happening in Madisonville:
Neighborhood Enhancement Program aims to improve Cincinnati quality of life
Neighborhood Asset Mapping tool focuses on neighborhoods' strength

Madisonville first neighborhood to officially adopt city's new form-based zoning code

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