Rooms With A View

Can you find a million-dollar view in Cincinnati and not be a millionaire to afford it?  There's a new wave of urban pioneers who think so.  They're rediscovering affordable homes and condos with terrific views located in close knit neighborhoods right in the urban core. 

Downtown and Mt. Adams have long captured some of the city's best scenery. Even Covington and Newport, Kentucky offer picture postcard views of the Cincinnati skyline that are hard to rival. But exploring some of Cincinnati's hillside communities just might surprise prospective buyers and renters. 

First, a quick history lesson: Purportedly built on seven hills like ancient Rome, Cincinnati's early development was originally confined to the flat basin that contains downtown and Over-the-Rhine.  Maximum density and public transportation made climbing out of the basin more realistic, and Cincinnati’s surrounding hillside communities were born. Effectively serving as the first 'suburbs' these new neighborhoods allowed residents to escape the thick, sooty skies of the basin and enjoy rarefied ‘country air.’  The resulting 19th century homes that were built on the hillsides not only created new neighborhoods adjacent to downtown, but provided a perch with plentiful views of the growing industrial city.

Perhaps most recognizable of Cincinnati’s revitalized 'hillside communities' is Mt. Adams, with its expensive homes, busy nightlife, European vibe, and densely inhabited streets. Here, 19th century architecture blends with modern steel and glass structures, all which cling precariously to cliffsides for the sake of stunning views of downtown, Northern Kentucky, and the snaking Ohio.  Of course views like these come at a cost - the average home price in Mt. Adams hovers close to $400,000.  (If that's not in your price range, the Eden Park overlook affords similar sights for a much smaller price tag - free).  But Cincinnati’s urban views aren't confined to Mt. Adams. 

For less than $200,000, you can buy or rent your own special view in one of Cincinnati's burgeoning hillside communities, and still have quick access to all the amenities offered in nearby Downtown Cincinnati.  Realtor and urban living specialist Jim Moll says these views are not only affordable, they rival other cities he's lived in as well.

"[Cincinnati offers] views unmatched by any I had living in Charleston, Savannah or Chicago's Lincoln Park," he says.

Moll should know: he now lives in the Emery Building at Central Parkway, between Main and Walnut Streets in Over-the-Rhine. Rehabbed and restored eight years ago, the former Ohio Mechanics Institute is now home to 59 unique apartments and one spectacular rooftop deck that almost spans the entire block abutting Central Parkway.

"We chose this location for the spectacular views of the Hamilton County Court House as well as looking up at Mt. Auburn, Mt. Adams and Main Street.  We can count nine church steeples from our rooftop as well as City Hall, Issac Wise Temple, Music Hall and Union Terminal," Moll says. 

Moll says the word about the urban core's great views is getting out as well.

"Downtown Cincinnati homes, condos and apartments are mostly known for their views. Whether they are river views or architectural views, most think of views when choosing to live in the Central Business District, Prospect Hill, Over-the-Rhine or the West End," he says. 

Soapbox takes a look at four homes from these affordable urban neighborhoods and the Cincinnatians who've found their own room with a view.

Neighborhood: Klotter/Conroy (Fairview)
Owners: Idris & Monique McKelvey

The McKelvey's purchased their home in Fairview three years ago. Idris, an attorney with Procter & Gamble, originally lived at Sycamore Place at St. Xavier Park in downtown Cincinnati. His wife Monique relocated to Cincinnati from St. Louis after finishing graduate school.
In search of a single-family home near the city center, their realtor showed the couple homes on Conroy Street, a cul de sac off of Klotter Street. Within walking distance of both Uptown and Downtown, the neighborhood is a mix of older rehabbed homes and newer developments that face West and South. While location was important, Idris says the views in their home sold them.

"From all three floors of our home, we can see downtown and into Kentucky. Each of the homes up here have roof-decks which have panoramic views of everything from Mt. Adams to downtown to Price Hill. It’s particularly great for watching fireworks on Labor Day or after Reds’ games," he says.

The McKelvey's neighborhood also offers quick access to restaurants and entertainment downtown and around the University of Cincinnati’s campus - the couple enjoys salsa night at the Mad Frog just across from UC. And when its nice, Idris rides his bike to work downtown - he says his daily commute averages four to six minutes. But sometimes they just prefer to stay at home.

"I think Monique and I love the fact that just looking out the window is its own activity up here. Whether you like to watch beautiful sunsets, or just see the city lit up at night, you really have it all up here."

Neighborhood: East Price Hill
Owner: Marc Baverman, Jr.

Once only accessible via the Price Hill Incline, the stretch of Grand Avenue that hugs the crest of East Price Hill hosts single family homes, new condo developments, and apartments that all offer an expansive look back at downtown Cincinnati, Uptown, and to the south, Northern Kentucky.

Baverman purchased his condo in August 2007. A manager with Kenmarc Electric, he says he got a pretty good deal and welcomed the opportunity to own his own place.

Even without Baverman's private vistas, the neighborhood already includes a prime viewing spot available to anyone at Italian restaurant Primavista just down the street. It also abuts the planned City Lights development at Incline Square where plans are in place for an office tower, restaurants and medical offices. Close by is Mt. Echo Park, which also includes its own panoramic views of the city, and neighboring Ludlow, Kentucky.

"It’s an ideal location for me. It's close to the highways, work, and school," Baverman says of the neighborhood five minutes from downtown Cincinnati.

And what's his favorite part about the view?

"I can see down the river to the right and to the left, downtown Cincinnati - including the Duke Energy 'Cincinnati' sign and the stadiums. It's also a perfect view for the Ludlow (Kentucky) fireworks in June."

Neighborhood: Prospect Hill (Mt. Auburn)
Owner: Sarah Bellamy

Bellamy moved to the Prospect Hill Historic District at the base of Mt. Auburn 15 years ago - since then she's moved twice on the same street (Milton) in search of more room and an even better view. She finally found a three bedroom at the high point of the street with a south facing deck. Bellamy rents her home because she loves to be able to be free to travel and explore.

"My extra money takes me to Bali instead of paying for new gutters," she says. 

Bellamy teaches art in the Forest Hills school district and also runs the art program at Uptown Arts in Over-the-Rhine.

"I grew up in the suburbs, so city life seemed more exciting and glamorous. I also teach art in the suburbs, so the city affords me privacy away from school."

Nearby Milton's Prospect Hill Tavern is the cozy kind of neighborhood pub that once existed on every corner in Cincinnati. The bar serves as headquarters for formal (and informal) neighborhood association meetings and benefits as well as showcases local artists on its walls. Of course, Main Street’s galleries and Vine Street's Gateway Quarter retail shopping are also minutes away, while Nicola's on Sycamore offers fine dining steps from Bellamy's home. And the favorite part of her view?

"I am able to not only see Union terminal but the fireworks on the river in September."

Her panoramic view also offers a seasonal slideshow.

"Fall leaves are so beautiful and not in the places I travel to - but winter ice storms are incredible downtown and exquisite. Summer leaves provide more privacy to my deck and spring just feels so good," she says.

Another bonus about Bellamy's home: "My neighbors. All are interesting, unique and creative people. Artists, poets, musicians and people who love their work."

Neighborhood: Over-the-Rhine
Owner: Chris Seelbach

Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Seelbach, a vice president of political consulting, finance and administration with the Seidewitz Group, purchased his condo in Over-the-Rhine in August 2004. His partner Craig, who owns his own landscaping and design business, joined him in 2006. Seelbach previously lived at Groton Lofts in downtown, and admits to "a natural instinct to live in an urban environment."

"I knew I wanted to get out of the cookie cutter, all white, middle class, suburban neighborhoods I had spent my life in. That just didn’t attract me."

What he wanted was old buildings and funky floor plans that aren’t replicated over and over again. He found it in Over-the-Rhine, a neighborhood he describes as having "undeniable potential."

The building that houses the pair's condo on Main Street is one of the tallest in Over-the-Rhine. Their condo occupies the 3rd and 4th floors on the west side of the building, with eight windows facing south that all get direct sunlight.

"I like living in a building built before even my grandparents were alive…I like wondering who has lived here before, what they were like, what they did everyday," Seelbach says. 

For their view, the condo developer took the south side of the fifth floor of their building and removed the roof to make a spectacular rooftop deck with 360 degree views of the city. Seelbach's favorite part of the view?

"Going up on the roof with Craig, drinks in hand, on a summer night, looking south at the skyline and east towards Mt. Adams and just taking it all in. It's pretty amazing. We have some great photos and experiences from those nights," he says.

In addition to the view, Seelbach values the diversity his neighborhood offered him as well as the convenience.

"I like walking down the street everyday among people who look different than me. I like being able to walk several blocks to my favorite bars and never worry about having to drive home."

Photography by Scott Beseler

Jim Moll atop the Emery

Looking up at Idris & Monique McKelvey

Emery view down Walnut St.

Klotter/Conroy (Fairview) Idris & Monique McKelvey
Sarah Bellamy's night view from Milton St.
Chris and Craig's rooftop in OTR

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