From Deserted to Dynamic: A Cincinnati Success Story

Once considered one of the most dangerous places in the U.S., Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood has become a development and business magnet. Over the last decade, the area has attracted more than $1 billion in investment. Travis Likes, first vice president at CBRE Cincinnati, explains this remarkable metamorphosis.

Travis Likes, first vice president at CBRE Cincinnati
Travis Likes, first vice president at CBRE Cincinnati

Leaning on the power of businessmen, Cincinnati local officials managed to fuel the rebirth of a once unsafe area in the heart of the city. Over-the-Rhine is now a model for urban revitalization. CBRE’s Cincinnati research found that the neighborhood has become the crown jewel for the urban core, gaining national attention.        

Historically, Over-the-Rhine was a shelter for German-speaking immigrants in search of economic opportunity. During the second half of the 20th century, the neighborhood became a deserted area, with criminality at record levels and abandoned buildings almost everywhere. This state of decay even lured filmmakers to the area. Traffic, the 2000 box office hit which highlighted America’s illegal drug trade, was mainly filmed in Over-the-Rhine.

OTR’s evolution

In July 2003, a system that increased the effectiveness and efficiency of development activities in the city of Cincinnati was created. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), a tax-exempt, private, non-profit corporation, began to support the rebirth of the downtown area by revitalizing and connecting the Fountain Square District, the Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine.

Overseen by 3CDC, much of the revitalization has been funded by Cincinnati’s most financially influential businessmen. “3CDC is the reason OTR looks the way it does today. It would have been very difficult for a for-profit developer to take on this situation. The work 3CDC has done and continues to do has paved the way for private developers to come in and contribute to the area,” Travis Likes, first vice president at CBRE Cincinnati, told Commercial Property Executive.

The $48 million renovation and expansion of the Washington Park back in 2012 was a major turning point for the area, because it provided eight acres of green space and a gathering venue. 3CDC added a 450-space underground parking garage, which increased accessibility to the area. “While we’ve completed dozens of projects in OTR, it’s hard to pinpoint one that has had a more catalytic effect on revitalization efforts than Washington Park. The park’s renovation and expansion to eight acres of green space in the urban core led to millions of dollars of investment in the surrounding area,” said 3CDC Senior Communications Manager Joe Rudemiller.

Currently, one of Cincinnati’s landmark buildings—the 1878-built Music Hall—is undergoing a $143 million renovation, its first major revamp in more than four decades.

Office space demand

All the activity taking place in the district has helped spur development. According to CBRE, roughly 220,000 square feet of office space is under construction to fulfill demand. Here are some of the most important projects underway:

    • The Strietmann Center—The 88,000-square-foot Class A Office space, originally built by The Strietmann Biscuit Co. at the beginning of 1899, is currently undergoing restoration. The Grandin Properties is in charge with the multimillion dollar upgrade.
    • 15th and Vine—The 55,000-square foot project features 45,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail space. The new $19.5 million building is being developed by 3CDC.

    • Empower headquarters—Empower Media Marketing, one of the largest independent media agencies in the country, will be moving its Cincinnati headquarters to Over-the-Rhine this year. A 64,000-square-foot office building is being built by 3CDC. Roughly $17.5 million is being invested in the four-story project. Empower will occupy the building’s first three floors, bringing 150 employees to the neighborhood. The fourth floor is available for lease.

  • Eleven40 Main and the Tower Building—Urban Sites is redeveloping two properties to add more than 23,000 square feet of office space along Main Street.

“Neither building has signed any office tenants yet, but there is clearly substantial interest. The branding, marketing and advertising groups are looking in the area, along with law firms opening smaller satellite offices. That trend will most likely continue as the office market defines itself in OTR. The spaces available are typically smaller in nature. You get the benefit of the historical vibe, but it’s not your traditional floorplate. The current stock of space helps compliment users gradually getting into the market,” Likes added. 

cincinnati 800x620 (002)Class A office towers in Cincinnati CBD currently lease for $13 NNN, as compared to OTR, where Class A office space regularly leases for $22 to $24 NNN. Prices are likely to remain high, as the neighborhood’s renaissance is a work in progress. OTR is the epicenter for trendy restaurants and attractive urban residential options. The urban nature of the area has been able to attract and retain top talent for companies here. “It’s a very walkable community. Now there’s new storefronts, new life. Just the sheer number of people on the streets is amazing. It was a very quiet part of downtown, but now that has all changed,” Likes concluded.  

Images courtesy of 3CDC & CBRE