The University of Cincinnati: Improving the Uptown Community
The University of Cincinnati (UC) plays an active role in redevelopment efforts, job growth, and long-term improvement in Uptown, home to UC’s main campus and to approximately 51,000 people, or 15 percent of the city’s population. “As an anchor institution,” former president Dr. Nancy Zimpher has said, “if there’s one place we need to get it right, it’s right here in Uptown Cincinnati — in the neighborhoods surrounding our campus.” Uptown is now experiencing economic revitalization and job growth after concerted efforts to reverse years of blight and high rates of crime and poverty. UC is a major partner in this turnaround by establishing and supporting community development corporations (CDCs) that encourage investment in the Uptown neighborhoods of Avondale, Clifton, Corryville, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, and Mt. Auburn. One such CDC, the Uptown Consortium, is a collaboration among UC and other area anchor institutions that uses new markets tax credit (NMTC) awards to leverage private investment throughout Uptown.
UC’s Office of Community Development
The Office of Community Development carries out most of the university’s redevelopment and revitalization activities. “Back in the late 1990s, we were faced with a situation,” explains Gerald Siegert, the office’s associate vice president. “Most of what surrounded the borders of the institution was vacant lots, rundown buildings, areas where inappropriate and sometimes illicit activity was going on.” In response, UC designated $150 million from its endowment to be used in the form of loans for redevelopment projects in the neighborhoods surrounding the campus and created the Office of Community Development to oversee these investments. The office helps establish and support CDCs that undertake residential and commercial revitalization projects. By working through a local CDC, UC becomes an equal partner in community development, serving alongside neighborhood residents and businesses on the CDC governing board. Projects completed by these CDCs include University Park Apartments in Clifton Heights and the Village at Stetson Square, a mixed-use building in Corryville.
The Uptown Consortium
Although the Office of Community Development has supported several CDCs that execute projects within a specific neighborhood, one, the Uptown Consortium, has a broader mission: ensuring “the long term sustainability and improvement of Uptown Cincinnati.” UC has played a central role throughout the life of the consortium. Zimpher helped spearhead the organization’s founding in 2004 as its chair, pooling UC’s resources with those of other local anchor institutions to have a wider impact throughout Uptown. In addition to UC, the Uptown Consortium’s membership includes Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, UC Health, TriHealth, and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. The consortium was initially capitalized by contributions from its five members; in addition, as a certified Community Development Entity, the consortium was also awarded federal NMTCs in 2006, 2009, and 2011 totaling $137 million. Focusing on public safety, transportation, housing, and economic development, the consortium has committed the bulk of its funds to Uptown areas in deep economic distress — census tracts with poverty rates of at least 30 percent, where the median household income is less than 60 percent of the area median income, and with unemployment rates that are at least 1.5 times the national average.
The consortium considers its efforts to be highly successful, having fostered more than $1 billion in development and an estimated 3,300 jobs created and retained. One recent consortium effort joined two projects, U Square @ the Loop, a mixed-use development with an affordable housing component, and Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention (SOAR), a workforce training program run by the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati (ULGC).
U Square @ the Loop
U Square @ the Loop, a $73 million mixed-use, midrise development, spans two city blocks. The residential portion of U Square contains 161 apartments consisting of 16 studio, 59 one-bedroom, and 86 two-bedroom units. Of these, 120 are market rate units marketed primarily to UC students, and the remaining 41 are designated for residents earning 80 percent or less of the area median income (who generally are not students). The apartments range from 450 to 1,075 square feet and include stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, 9-foot ceilings, and washers and dryers. Residential amenities include a large club room, an outdoor terrace, and a fitness center. A plaza that divides the two blocks of U Square is used for concerts and other neighborhood events. The development also contains 80,000 square feet of retail space, 40,000 square feet of UC office space, and 716 parking spaces in 2 parking garages. The building won the National Apartment Association’s 2014 PARAGON Award in the Student Housing category.
Funding for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver-certified project included $24 million in NMTCs from the Uptown Consortium, $19 million in NMTCs from the Citywide Cincinnati Development Fund, and $8 million in NMTCs from PNC Bank, which also provided a $28 million loan as the lead lender on the project.
Combating Uptown’s Unemployment and Poverty
The Uptown Consortium also promotes economic revitalization through job creation and training. Unemployment rates in Uptown neighborhoods have traditionally been high, exceeding 15 percent in parts of Avondale and Mount Auburn from 2008 to 2012. To address this problem, the consortium partnered with ULGC to create a three-week version of SOAR tailored to Uptown’s employment opportunities. SOAR has a longstanding record of success, with participants achieving a graduation rate of 81 percent and a full-time job placement rate of 76 percent from 2007 to 2012. The customized course emphasized preparation for jobs in the construction and healthcare industries, which are prominent sectors in Uptown. Participants received new work clothes and attended 12 eight-hour sessions that included classes on résumé writing, public speaking, and interview preparation. Around half of the graduates moved on to Construction Connections, an eight-week pre-apprenticeship program for jobs in the U Square @ the Loop project.
As the Uptown community changes, UC continues to seek new ways to meet the community’s needs. As the university’s enrollment has expanded and the Uptown area has become one of the largest employment centers in the city, traffic management has become a pressing issue in Uptown. To address this issue, the Uptown Consortium is working on a project to revitalize the Martin Luther King Drive corridor. When finished, the redesigned street will connect the university and nearby medical facilities and neighborhoods with a major new interchange at Interstate 71, easing neighborhood residents’ access to jobs and resources throughout Uptown. The final corridor project will include both housing developments and research and commercial business entities.
Uptown Consortium. n.d. “Mission & Vision.” Accessed 22 August 2014; Nancy Zimpher. 2007. “State of the University Address: Great Cities Need Great Universities AND Great Universities Need Great Cities.” Accessed 24 September 2014; Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. n.d. “Increasing Impact: An Anchor Consortium.” Accessed 22 August 2014; Uptown Consortium. n.d. “Cincinnati Recognizes Uptown Residents Job Training.” Accessed 22 August 2014; University of Cincinnati. “Community Development.” Accessed 9 September 2014.×
Interview with Gerald Siegert, 25 August 2014; Email communication with Gerald Siegart, 17 September 2014.×
Uptown Consortium. n.d. “Mission and Vision.” Accessed 11 September 2014; Uptown Consortium. n.d. “Uptown Consortium.” Accessed 22 August 2014; Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. n.d. “Increasing Impact: An Anchor Consortium.”Accessed 22 August 2014; University of Cincinnati. n.d. “Dr. Nancy L. Zimpher.” Accessed 15 August 2014; Uptown Consortium. 2014. “Uptown Consortium Ten Year Success Report.” Accessed 26 August 2014; Email communication with Gerald Siegart, 17 September 2014; Email communication with Beth Robinson, president and chief executive officer, Uptown Consortium, 29 August 2014; Uptown Consortium. n.d. “Programs.” Accessed 25 September 2014.×
Uptown Consortium. 2014. “Uptown Consortium Ten Year Success Report.” Accessed 26 August 2014.×
Interview with Scott Arentsen, controller, Towne Properties, 25 August 2014; Towne Properties. n.d. “U Square: About Us.” Accessed 22 August 2014; Interview with Arn Bortz, partner, Towne Properties, 21 August 2014; Towne Properties. n.d. “U Square: Income Qualified Brochure.” Accessed 12 September 2014; National Apartment Association. n.d. “2014 Builder, Owners and Developers Awards.” Accessed 22 August 2014; Interview with Arn Bortz, partner, Towne Properties, 21 August 2014.×
Interview with Scott Arentsen, controller, Towne Properties, 25 August 2014.×
U.S. Census Bureau. “2008–2012 American Community Survey”; Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. n.d. “Solid Opportunities for Advancement and Retention.” Accessed 22 September 2014; Uptown Consortium. n.d. “Cincinnati Recognizes Uptown Residents Job Training.” Accessed 22 August 2014.×
Interview with Gerald Siegert, 25 August 2014.×