My Soapbox: Dan Schimberg, Uptown Rental Properties

Stand on the front steps of the stately Auburndale apartment building where Auburn Avenue crosses McMillan and William Howard Taft avenues near the University of Cincinnati, and you can take in much of Dan Schimberg’s professional world with a 360-degree sweep.
Look north and you can’t miss the massive VP3 project, which Schimberg’s Uptown Rental Properties will open in August with 148 apartments and a 250-space parking garage. It’s directly across from the downtrodden Corryville Kroger, finally getting its long-awaited renovation off the ground this summer.
Swing around to the east and see earth-moving equipment working on 101 Corry, a $25 million development with 123 apartments to be ready in summer 2016. A small pocket park sits next door as an island now, but Schimberg will contribute to new landscaping and lighting there to coincide with the opening of 101 Corry.
Look south down Auburn Avenue and catch the 1930s-era Wellington building, which Uptown Properties will rehab over the next few years into 60 apartments. You can’t make out Inwood Park from that spot, but Schimberg is planning a large housing development between the Wellington and the park that could bring more than 400 new residents to Mt. Auburn. Bulldozers are already moving dirt around at the foot of Glencoe Place in anticipation of that project's launch.
Let your gaze come back up to the empty corner at Auburn and McMillan, where a $30 million office building is planned. Schimberg hopes that doctors and other services affiliated with The Christ Hospital will locate there and that CINCO Credit Union will move there from across the street.
If he can work out the details, Schimberg would tear down the existing CINCO office to create additional room — along with setting the new office building back a bit on Auburn Avenue — to allow the city to reconfigure the messy intersection of Auburn, McMillan and Taft.
Finally, turn around and check out the yellow brick Auburndale, built around 1900 and purchased by Uptown Properties in 2009.
This is the area Schimberg has been buying, fixing, building, renting, selling and loving for 30 years. It's now referred to as Uptown — collectively the neighborhoods of Avondale, Clifton, Clifton Heights, Corryville and Mt. Auburn as well as the UC campus — but he'll tell you he was "uptown" before Uptown.

Schimberg's company has been as much a development catalyst (and criticism magnet) for Uptown as 3CDC is in Over-the-Rhine, with one possible exception.
“3CDC has had a lot more money to work with than we have,” he says.
What's your overall development philosophy for Uptown Rental Properties?
First off, our approach is “buy and hold.” We believe in Cincinnati. I’ve been building in Corryville since 1985.
But it’s not me when it comes to the new energy here in Uptown, it’s “we.” We’ve just pushed the redevelopment along when no one else wanted to be here. It takes a village to redevelop a neighborhood, believe me. You need people to drink the kool-aid with you. That’s easier if you have a track record like we have.
Our work Uptown in Corryville and Mt. Auburn is all about density. There’s tremendous demand for new housing to serve both UC students and Uptown employees at places like Christ Hospital, Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati. You need to get the right amount of density to fill that demand and to create foot traffic to support businesses.
People have been trying to resurrect Short Vine and the area around UC for years. Why is the momentum finally heating up now?
We have to live with the reality that Short Vine was a failure for many years. We all know that perception is reality and it takes along time to live down a bad reputation. It’s like being lied to — when do you start to trust again? So I know we have a challenge ahead of us convincing people and businesses to come back to Short Vine.
It used to be not long ago that when prospective students came to visit UC they were told to avoid Short Vine, Corryville and Mt. Auburn. Now (UC President) Santa Ono has announced that Short Vine is back. We’ve been able to help cut crime on Short Vine by 50 percent, and that’s hard to do. Really hard.
But in recent years UC has spent $500 million on campus and $125 million off campus to elevate the look and feel of the area as well improve the infrastructure, the amenities and the safety, all things students and their parents look for when choosing a college. Our company is investing $100 million total in just our current projects here.
It’s all been market-driven. Those improvements are what students and workers want these days, and if we didn’t provide it they’d go somewhere else.
Why are you investing so much in Mt. Auburn?
Basically we want to connect downtown and Uptown. Mt. Auburn is exactly in the middle. There are 4,000 workers at Christ Hospital right here, plus tens of thousands of students and staff at UC. Four of the city’s six largest employers are in Uptown.
The intersection with William Howard Taft is the 2500 block of Vine Street. Rhinegeist is in the 1900 block of Elm Street. So we’re only talking about six blocks up the hill from the action in Over-the-Rhine.
Uptown Properties and our development partners are asking the city to fix the Auburn/McMillan/Taft intersection, widen Auburn Avenue and renovate Inwood Park. We'll do the rest. Councilmen Chris Seelbach and Charlie Winburn co-sponsored a motion (in March) to fix those three things, and it passed City Council. When have those two, one liberal and one conservative, worked together to push legislation? That shows the political support for improving Mt. Auburn.
Is there a vision emerging for how to rework the Auburn/McMillan/Taft intersection?
We think that whole intersection needs to be changed. It’s too narrow on that little section of Auburn Avenue, and cars get backed up in every direction. Plus Taft can become a better gateway to the UC area coming from the east.
We’d like to widen Auburn Avenue a bit and remove on-street parking to get traffic flowing smoother through there.
How would you partner with the city to bring positive activity back to Inwood Park?
Inwood Park is a half-mile from downtown and half-mile from Uptown. It’s the perfect location, accessible to thousands of students and workers, plus hundreds of residents in our new apartment projects. If the streetcar line comes up from Over-the-Rhine, it would pass right by the park. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to ride the streetcar up from downtown and walk through the park to your apartment?
We’re pledging $25,000 a year in perpetuity toward programming Inwood Park after it’s renovated. Can we get that amount matched by other neighborhood companies like Christ Hospital? We’ll see.
I’d like to see Cincinnati Parks add a dog park for sure. If everything comes together, we’re hoping to open a renovated Inwood Park in summer 2017.
Those of us old enough to remember Short Vine in its heyday thought we'd never see a rebirth after so many years. What does the future hold for Short Vine?
Our existing Short Vine buildings (Views on Vine, Vine Street Flats, Jefferson House, Euclid Square) are 100 percent leased now. VP3 is 50 percent leased several months before it opens. It’ll be 100 percent leased when we open in August.
We’ve continued to build parking in our Short Vine developments, including VP3, which will have 250 spots for public parking. We like to keep the rates reasonable. Helping establish a thriving entertainment zone on Short Vine is more important to me than getting $1 more per hour for parking.
Kroger will start construction by the end of the month, headed up by Anchor Properties. Six hundred people will live across the street from the store in VP3, so I know Anchor is anxious to get going.
Where does Uptown development go from here?
Short Vine is only four blocks long, but the opportunity area is much larger. We have two major east-west corridors, Taft/McMillan and Martin Luther King Boulevard, and we’re very close to I-71 and the new interchange at MLK.
There’s long-term opportunity for huge growth in this area. We hold a lot of property, about 15 acres of developable land in Corryville and Mt. Auburn, and we’re looking for development opportunities. There’s a lot of speculation going on now and a lot of developers looking to get into this area. We’ll be patient and look for good opportunities — we have projects planned out through 2019.
City officials have been talking about the I-71 interchange since 1985. That’s how I chose my company name — I saw a sign in a City Hall office saying “Uptown interchange coming on 71.” I’d never heard of “uptown” before that; the name wasn’t used to describe this area back then. That was long before the Uptown Consortium came into being.
Working in neighborhoods with older housing stock, how do you balance the push for redevelopment versus historic considerations?
There’s always a lot of tension when it comes to developing historic buildings in old neighborhoods. We love old buildings — I got my start rehabbing old buildings. We love saving special buildings and have done that a lot over the years.
But you can’t solve the density problem here with two- and three-bedroom family homes. You need larger buildings to house more people. The reality is there’s tremendous demand growing in this part of Uptown, between UC and the large employers.
Are you satisfied helping shepherd Uptown redevelopment or do you keep an eye opportunities in other parts of town?
I’m open to doing something in Over-the-Rhine, if someone needs our help and we could add value to a project. There are a lot of great builders already working in OTR, so I don’t think they’re missing us down there.
We know the Uptown area well. I’ve been working here for 30 years. There’s plenty of land to develop and projects to do here.
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John Fox is an experienced freelance writer and editor who served as managing editor of Soapbox from December 2014 to August 2016.