Private: Uptown Cincinnati holds key to region’s future economy
Uptown Cincinnati, the urban area just north of downtown Cincinnati, will be the next generation of the region’s economy.
That was the message delivered this week by the panelists at the Business Courier’s Commercial Real Estate Developers Power Breakfast to about 500 commercial real estate experts. On Tuesday morning, the Courier brought together a panel of five real estate experts to discuss the upcoming redevelopment of parts of Uptown neighborhoods into the Uptown Innovation Corridor as a result of the new $80 million Interstate 71 interchange at Martin Luther King Drive, the first portion of which opened in April.
“At a big picture level, the Uptown is the future of our region,” Mayor John Cranley said. “This is an incredibly important area for the growth of our region. And by opening up the interchange, we are rediscovering tracts of land that were disinvested for 50 years that are now available again because we’re looking at it with new eyes.”
In addition to Cranley, the panel included:
Uptown includes Avondale, Clifton, Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview, Corryville and parts of Mount Auburn. While home to some of the region’s largest employers, such as the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, parts of these neighborhoods have been neglected for decades.
The center of the Uptown Innovation Corridor is the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Reading Road, just west of the new interchange. There, the Uptown Consortium has a vision for dense, urban, pedestrian-friendly development that will bring research and innovation companies to the region’s core.
Uptown Consortium is a nonprofit community development corporation founded in 2004 by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, TriHealth, the University of Cincinnati and UC Health.
7,000 new jobs expected
The MLK interchange is expected to bring more than 7,000 permanent jobs to the immediate area, including up to 3,000 from major Uptown employers, 2,000 from new business attraction and spin-off development, and up to 2,300 from retention of businesses that the city and state could be at risk of losing, according to a 2012 study by the University of Cincinnati Economics Center.
Going back to 2015, Uptown Consortium has invested about $24 million to assemble sites and undertake land use planning near the new interchange. The corridor will have about 44 acres of land that could support 2 million square feet of development.
The Consortium is still acquiring property in the area, which Robinson said is the biggest challenge. To date, the Consortium has acquired more than 120 parcels totaling about 30 acres of land.
“It’s not a greenfield where you can buy one or two large tracts of land and you have a site. We have been acquiring a lot of small, individual parcels and we’re not finished,” she said.
Uptown Gateway, an office and hotel development on nearly 6 acres, would be the first development to come about as a result of the efforts first started by Cranley about 15 years ago. Cranley, a Cincinnati city council member at the time, went to the Uptown community councils to get their support for a new interchange at Martin Luther King Drive.
Even though Terrex/Messer’s Construction Co.’s Uptown Gateway is months from starting construction, the project is attracting interest from potential users. Horton said since the team, led by JLL’s Rusty Myers, started marketing Uptown Gateway, the project has received interest from five companies. One of those companies would be looking to come into the Cincinnati market.
“And they’ve all been large and that’s what’s been surprising,” Horton said. “So far, all of them represent opportunities that would take all of one building or both buildings at the site.”
As for the planned hotel at Uptown Gateway, Horton said the team has met with and interviewed a number of different hotel developers and is close to selecting a partner.
McGraw said Uptown Innovation Corridor’s emphasis on health care and research make this area different from opportunities in other markets and around Cincinnati.
“Everybody in the country wants or has or is building some type of health innovation corridor,” McGraw said. “Some that start from scratch, and there are a number, have a much bigger hill to climb.”
Jackson, who is based in Washington, D.C., and assists companies with global strategy, location footprint configuration, site selection, portfolio and occupancy strategy, and global incentives negotiations, said the plan for this corridor hits many recent trends he’s seen organizations look for in locating their operations. Companies are looking to locate in urban areas close to amenities and services with connectivity to other organizations and institutions.
“We’re seeing organizations really thinking about, particularly their office operations, headquarters, innovation centers being close to talent and being in an environment that is a little bit different,” Jackson said.
The city of Cincinnati, Uptown Consortium and the Uptown Gateway team have all committed to making sure redevelopment in the area is an inclusive process. Robinson said from the beginning this has been a collaborative process.
“We formed a task force that was representative of all our neighborhoods and the businesses and residents,” Robinson said. “So they’ve been really at the table with us from day one.”
The Consortium has ambitious inclusion goals in terms of hiring neighborhood residents, contracting goals and for the services and businesses that are attracted to the area.
Cranley said the effort dates back to getting the community councils’ endorsement of the interchange. Initial construction started on the project in fall 2014.
“It was critical from day one that neighborhoods believe in the potential of the interchange to unlock opportunity that had bypassed them by no access off the highway,” he said.
The Terrex/Messer team has committed to a community benefits agreement that holds them to a high benchmark in construction, but it goes beyond that.
“We want to see a long-term benefit for the community,” Horton said. “So, we’ve made commitments on the operations and the management of the property, and even so far as each and every tenant that comes to our site will participate in an inclusion workshop.”
McGraw and Jackson said the corridor and the larger region would benefit from a concentrated effort to promote the opportunity near the new interchange.
“What this will open up is billions of dollars of opportunity for these neighborhoods on the Uptown side but also on the east side of the highway,” Cranley said. “We’re seeing the seeds come to fruition of an amazing growth engine for our region.”
Cranley said Midwestern cities that have turned the corner toward a renaissance all have one thing in common: major research and development university hubs at their center. He said UC and the rest of the research institutions are a chance to bring people into the city and keep them here.
“Downtown, with more Fortune 500 companies per capita than any city in America, is the economy of today,” Cranley said. “Uptown is the economy of tomorrow.”
Original article posted on May 19, 2017 by the Cincinnati Business Courier.