By Dr. Mark Mussman
Over the past year we've seen one thing - the powerful will do what they can to remain in power, regardless of who it hurts, and when it hurts. During the pandemic, 3CDC seized the opportunity to do what it had intended to do for so long - take as much public property and turn it into a profit. From park-like spaces like Imagination Alley and Findlay Playground, to public right-of-ways, like Court Street, 14th and 15th Streets, and the DORA, to the Streateries, 3CDC took advantage of the unfortunate situation to push through, and get paid for, their privatization of public space.
Anyone who has dealt with water control issues, knows that the power of water is boundless. A little drip becomes a rush, and that rush will push until it gets to its destination - the ocean. Anything in the way becomes Swiss Cheese, full of tunnels of different sizes. In their rush to get the Streateries in before the summer season, 3CDC installed wooden platforms throughout the city without a proper drainage plan. Pooling water can be seen throughout the neighborhood, creating hazards, conditions for infestations, and structural damage. (If you are unsure what a Streatery is, it's an outdoor seating area for private businesses, usually in the place of parking spots, on roads or extended sidewalks. The Streatery program was funded by the City of Cincinnati and other private partners, and is administered by 3CDC, not the city.)
Like the unstoppable drip of water heading downhill, the privatization of our neighborhood's parks and recreation spaces continues. Like the Streateries, fueled by public TIF money, Imagination Alley has been razed, except for the Arch, and new concrete and planting areas are to be constructed. After granting 3CDC the management rights to pocket a park in the 1300 block of Vine and Republic, 3DDC worked with a local group of community members to provide engagement about the space. This group, Storefronts, reported that the space should be welcoming to the current users after renovation, and that children should have a usable space to play, among other recommendations. Nearby residents requested bathrooms and water fountains at Imagination Alley, but were told that the budget and space wouldn't accommodate them. After that process finished, the city allotted half a million dollars to 3CDC for the remodel.
Just a couple of blocks away from Imagination Alley, 14th and 15th Streets are closed for restaurant and bar access. The closure of these public streets by 3CDC was opposed by the community council. 3CDC had requested 15th Street be closed years ago, but due to community concern, the plan was halted; however, with the excuse of COVID19, 3CDC was successful in lobbying the city to agree to the closure, plus the additional closures, and provide the funding to do so. Hidden deep in the plans for the street closure was a declaration that 3CDC was creating a permitting process so that Imagination Alley could be used as a small events venue, and rented out to neighboring restaurants and bars. This information, as well as the final designs, budgets, and plans for the children's area, were never presented to the community council.
Up the street, around Findlay Market, 3CDC is packaging four publicly owned and controlled properties into a portfolio to be reimagined by 3CDC. These properties include Findlay Playground, Findlay Park, the Over-the-Rhine Rec Center, and Grant Park. These public properties are in an area where 3CDC is rapidly developing - whether it be upscale housing, or breweries and restaurants, 3CDC is using tax credits to develop several buildings around Findlay Playground. A few years ago, Findlay Playground was fenced off, purposefully disrupting the community, forcing neighboring small businesses to close, social networks to be undermined, and the loss of public space. During the pandemic, the community fought to have the fence removed from the area, yet part of the fence still remains today.
The public input process that 3CDC is using involves a survey asking questions about services and amenities that are needed, but fails to list public restrooms, even though neighbors have said this is the number one issue. People filling out the survey could add that under "Other" but the fact that it's not even included, knowing that this has been a concern, may mean they are steering participants away from basic needs, such as bathrooms. But even more concerning, is that 3CDC has already renamed the Over-the-Rhine Rec Center to the Findlay Rec Center, and as we may know, to name is to own, which brings even larger questions to why 3CDC is involved at all with these properties, other than their ownership of neighboring undeveloped properties.
You may have heard about the recent struggle for residents on Court Street to remain in their homes. Unfortunately, the international investor-backed developer has chosen Cincinnati because of our eviction-friendly laws and relatively low cost of housing. They have purchased more than a thousand units in under two years, and they are hoping to drive up the cost of living and fulfill their obligation to their investors. Their model is to vacate the property and create "luxury" units and charge the maximum rent that the market will allow. Unfortunately, because we are in a housing crisis, the market has no limit, and many families are forced to pay way more than 30% of their income towards their housing. As long as it creates a profit for their shareholders, the system is working as intended - to make the rich richer.
Some have noted that the recent city investment in Court Street, creating a pedestrian area, and the TIF money going to fund 3CDC's high-end condos, may have contributed to the displacement of the long-time residents. Just as we saw around Zeigler and Washington Parks, and we will see around Findlay Playground and Grant Parks, the more public investment in an area, the higher the likelihood that longtime residents will be displaced. Just look to the West End, where the soccer stadium has increased the property values following tens of millions of dollars in public investment there. This is how 3CDC is cornering the market.
Finally, another way 3CDC took advantage of the pandemic was with the DORA on the Banks. The DORA is an outdoor area for public consumption of alcoholic beverages. People are able to buy a specially marked cup and drink in the entire Banks, excluding Smale Riverfront Park. As was true for every single one of the aforementioned projects, the public input on the DORA lacked true engagement and has created a festival atmosphere that is incongruent with a residential neighborhood. Fortunately, the Banks was built for tourism, and the DORA may be a welcome addition, but it does not come without a cost.
Ultimately, 3CDC is like a trickle of water that seems innocuous until it's too late: today, the trickle has poked so many holes through the fabric of the community that the result is a community that is wholly unrecognizable. The shift from a residential neighborhood to a tourist destination was finalized at City Hall during the pandemic through a partnership with 3CDC. The goal to bring the restaurants and bars back was achieved without adequate community input. The fact that the road closures and Streateries are permanent, demonstrates how much power the city is willing to concede to 3CDC, without ensuring a proper review process, and it should be chilling enough to freeze the pools of water caused by the ill-designed Streateries.