North of Liberty Street in Over-the-Rhine, Findlay Market sees heavy crowds on the weekends, steady lunchtime traffic on the weekdays and more and more construction projects nearby. We sat down with Joe Hansbauer, President & CEO of the Corporation for Findlay Market, and local rehabber Kim Starbuck to hear their thoughts on redevelopment in and near the Market.
We start with Joe Hansbauer.
Q: What are some of the upcoming projects around Findlay Market? How has the Market been involved?
A: Model Group has a large collection of projects on Race Street, some of which are already developed and occupied with tenants like EMC and Deeper Roots. The rest of the commercial tenants will be coming in early spring of 2018. Model also has a series of projects on the Elm Street side that are in the demolition phase and will soon be moving forward with construction. In 5 of the 6 buildings north of the Globe Building and French Crust, the Corporation for Findlay Market (CFFM) will be involved in a more direct way with development. At 1819 Elm Street we will be building out a restaurant focused on quality food. It will also serve as a culinary training and workforce development program in conjunction with CityLink. We’ll be taking people through a 16-week training program. We’ll be open around September 2018. We’re calling the project City Kitchen for now.
Additionally, in the 4 buildings south of that but directly north of French Crust, we’re going to be creating accelerator storefronts. There will be kitchens in the 2 larger buildings (1100 SQFT); the smaller ones (600 SQFT) will be retail only. The leases will be 9 months long, and the target tenants will be pop-up businesses that are ready to do brick and mortar. These projects will also launch in late 2018.
Finally, the Leader Furniture building has new ownership and will likely be under construction in 2018. Greg Badger’s building on the northeast corner of the Market next to Heist Fish is under construction. Its 1st-floor tenant will be a custom cabinetry shop. That kind of food-related business fits in well, similar to Artichoke. Urban Sites has their Film Center building which should have occupancy in the 44 apartments on the above floors starting in February. They’ll announce their commercial tenant in early 2018.
Q: How does investment in an area like Findlay Market start?
A: It’s difficult to pinpoint a single factor. It’s a confluence of things and people. For instance, Greg Badger has had his building for 10 years and has always had his eye on developing it, but at some point, it takes critical mass. The Market over those 10 years has grown significantly in terms of occupancy and foot traffic. And then you have the physical development by a big investor like Model that has the resources and ability to put together interesting and unique financing plans (traditional financing, state and federal historic tax credits, new market tax credits) to make their projects go. This then unlocks the opportunity for individual investors to come in and buy 1-2 buildings nearby. Without the larger developments, individual ownership—the organic development process—becomes much more difficult.
Q: What impact has the streetcar had on this area?
A: Certainly it has had a direct impact on the community surrounding Findlay Market in two ways. One, through weekday lunchtime traffic. There are half a million workers downtown but prior to the streetcar, very few of them walked or biked 14 blocks or got their car out of a garage to drive up to Findlay Market for lunch. But they will ride a streetcar. We saw an increase in this lunchtime traffic when the streetcar started and we’ve sustained that growth. And then the other, long-term impact is the development.
I think it would be hard to argue that none of this development would have happened without the streetcar, but north of Liberty, the streetcar certainly accelerated redevelopment by 7-10 years. It helped give individual investors like Kim Starbuck and bigger ones like Model the confidence to invest near the Market.
Q: What is your long-term vision for the Market area?
A: We want Findlay Market, starting at the center in the physical market house building, to continue to be a premier site for fresh food. We want to maintain that place as a grocery experience surrounded by other things like gifts, the beer garden, prepped food and street performers. Expanding out from there, we want to see a heavy focus on fresh food and food-related products, which we have now with the street retail and the farmshed. Expanding further from that, on Elm and Race Streets, we want to see more of those areas incorporate retail, restaurant and entertainment uses.
Expanding further out and seeing the Findlay Market district as central to Vine, we think there’s an opportunity for supportive services, things like a dentist office. Our neighborhood can’t just be restaurants. At some point, we need things other than food and drink.
We want the Market district to continue to expand so that people can start their own locally-owned and independently-operated businesses and supportive retail.
We want to make sure there is a mix, something for everyone that lives in the neighborhood. The Market is a good metaphor for this since you have more luxury items alongside meals for $9. We want to make sure there are services for everyone across the spectrum—from low-income individuals to those who are purchasing a condo.
Q: What are the other long-term needs for this area?
A: I still think there is an opportunity north of Liberty for additional sit-down restaurants. We’re building out our restaurant program. The corner building on the Race Street side will have a restaurant. The space north of EMC will have a restaurant in it. We don’t anticipate it looking like Vine Street and we don’t want to recreate Vine Street but we do think the Market district could be an evening destination as well.
Q: Do other developers need to be convinced that the Market is a hotspot for development?
A: I think we’ve zoomed past that phase. The demand is very high right now. The availability of properties and projects is diminished.
If you’re just coming into the market now, thinking, “Findlay seems like a great place to develop,” you’re probably too late.
There are still a few opportunities, a few city-owned properties that are looking for new owners. Definitely opportunities further out along Vine and McMicken. The properties along Race and Elm, though, have been snagged up and are in some process of development. There’s some large-scale situations still—Liberty and Elm has a development plan and a developer. I think they’re working through their process to figure out if they can get that project moving forward or not. If that falls through, that’s obviously a very large and important location for the neighborhood. It’s a gateway entry to the Market district. Someone will be interested in that if the current development doesn’t work out.
Q: How much physical revitalization did the Market need?
A: The city played a significant role in that early on. In Over-the-Rhine in the 1970s through early 1980s, when lots of poor architectural choices (including demolition) were the national norm, the core in Cincinnati was tremendously under-resourced and underdeveloped. If Cincinnati had been developed during that time period, we would have lost a lot of buildings to demolition. The benefit we had—obviously, though, not to those who were trying to live here during that time period—was that developers were not interested. As a result, many of the great buildings with great bones sat vacant and un-resourced for a long time. Then the city came in and took ownership of some vacant properties. And then you started to have some private and public-private ownership, folks like 3CDC, that then acquired properties and stabilized them.
There are some interesting stories too. Greg Badger’s building was under development 16-17 years ago. The owner at that time took out a load-bearing wall. Sides caved in. The city approved that building to be torn down. Jim Tarbell stepped in and said, “We can’t tear down this important building that’s sitting on the Market.” He helped to convince City Council to give the demolition funds to a willing developer instead—which ended up being Greg Badger. The building sat for 12 years, and now, it’s being renovated into a great project.
Q: How do you see the Market playing a role in the broader redevelopment of the Northern Liberties?
A: In order for Findlay Market to be a fresh food grocery for Cincinnati, we need customers who are buying groceries. Families or individuals who are purchasing a condo have disposable income and they often visit Vine Street 5-6 nights a week. They’re not buying a lot of groceries and cooking them at home. They’re still important to the Market; they help to bring new people and density. What is equally, if not more, important to our overall mission is having individuals on lower or fixed incomes since they buy groceries to cook at home 6 nights a week.
We also believe that people who are working at Findlay Market stands ought to be able to work there and then walk home.
Having apartments that are available and attainable to a middle or lower working income is very important. But we’re not real estate developers. We’re not going to buy a building and put apartments in. We take every opportunity to encourage others though.
Kim Starbuck is a local preservationist and rehabber. She and her husband Kevin Pape renovated three buildings on Elm Street (1737-9 Elm) by Findlay Market.
Q: You renovated the Crown building at 1739 Elm, and now another two buildings at 1737 Elm. What was that like?
A: The city had condemned 1737 Elm. Someone owned it but she took down the rear wall that needed to be structurally repaired and instead put in a garage opening. Unfortunately, she defaulted and her mason could not complete the work. I was working on the building next door (the Crown building) and I noticed the bricks coming out of the wall. I called the city and the city got the mason to finish their stabilization work. The back building at 1737 Elm required a lot of extensive structural work. It’s from the 1880s but sadly only two of the four original walls are left because they were in such bad shape. The roof had been leaking for over 20 years, so everything in the building was like a sponge. The walls were deteriorated; the floors were so rotted. The joists had to be replaced or fixed. The only thing that really had integrity was the staircase. The front building from the 1860s was equally bad.
Both buildings at 1737 Elm were tenement buildings. Originally, we thought to do single family in the front and back but that didn’t make any sense. We decided instead to do efficient studios in one building and a single family in the other. As for the interior design, we replicated as much as possible to match the original. Additionally, one of our goals for this project was marrying historic preservation with energy sustainability. The rear building has solar panels on the roof which will supply on average 65% of energy usage. We installed all new windows and the walls have new insulation.
To make the project work, we self-financed and leveraged other investments to invest in these buildings. We got historic tax credits, so the buildings will be rental. You know, sometimes you can buy a building for only $25,000. But then you have to put $1 million in to stabilize it. Things like historic tax credits help but we still had to finance ourselves. It’s a long-term investment for us.
Q: Who were your partners?
A: Mike Uhlenhake and I worked on the architectural work. He has a very organic approach to space utilization. The construction company was Gustin Construction. Everyone told me just to tear down these buildings. And it would be easier just to build new! But that’s not what we’re doing. We’re saving the district, and every single building is contributing. We’ve already lost too much.
Q: How did you get involved in historic renovation work down here?
A: I was a historic preservation photographer for the Library of Congress. I traveled all around the country photographing historic structures that were going to be torn down for urban renewal or for new construction. Watching them get torn down for so many years is just heart wrenching. In terms of Over-the-Rhine, I’ve been coming to Findlay Market since the 1970s. When the streetcar was first on the table, we said, “Let’s invest in Findlay Market and Over-the-Rhine because no one is doing anything up here.” There was all this vacancy. We wanted to bring people and life up to these historic structures and show people that they have value and they’re so important to the district. We purchased 1739 Elm and it was fairly stable but had been empty for a long time. Our plan was to bring new residents and new business into that building, and we wanted to attract a restaurant for the first floor to bring more food and walkability to the Market area during the week. While that was happening, these buildings at 1737 Elm were falling down. We purchased them from OTR ADOPT and stabilized them.
Q: Has being near the Market and the streetcar helped your investment?
A: Oh heavens, yes. I wish I had bought 20 buildings. But I don’t have the brain of a developer. I didn’t think of buying a bunch of buildings back then and turning them around. Now I think of it!
Investment here is the cure. The streetcar was an economic developer. People think it’s all about transportation, which it will become, but initially it was to get investors to see the city investing itself and therefore think, “I’m safe to invest too, to put my personal money into these buildings.”
The streetcar for us was assurance that the city wasn’t just going to come in, do a few things and then walk away. But our original investment was based on the Market.
City markets have always been community centers. They bring the whole city, every type of person, into the city and provide local products. That was really our inspiration.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Rhined and Harvest?
A: The Rhined. Stephanie and Dave Webster approached us about a year ago with this great idea to do an artisan, mostly U.S.-made cheese shop as a place where you could purchase cheese or just have a glass of wine and eat cheese. It has been wonderful having them here. There are other cheese sellers at the Market but they don’t do this type of cheese.
Harvest at the Crown building next door was a much harder fit to find. I had many pizza places come to me and many other exciting restaurant ideas, but we don’t want to be restaurant investors. But Harvest and Chris Crader out of Columbus was just a perfect fit. They like to use local ingredients; there’s no pizza at the Market; and it’s accessible to different families and friends.
Q: What’s missing from the Market?
A: The neighborhood is changing so rapidly and that’s a concern as well as a blessing. Historically and now, services for low-income individuals are lacking. A year ago, if you needed toilet paper or whatever household item, you had to go to the Dollar Store on Central Parkway. There’s no drugstore. There are no services for mixed income or low-income individuals. There’s no laundromat.
When I travel, I like to go to other markets and see how they strike a balance between tourism and service. That’s a balance that Joe Hansbauer is aware of at all times. How do we continue to attract new life, encourage working-class folks to come here and retain the low-income individuals that have been here for so long? It’s a tough equation. The cost of renovating these buildings won’t allow me to have rent levels that will support all people. It’s just the size, scale and cost of investment. But there are bigger developers who own some low-income and I hope that they will continue to do that—renovate buildings and not exclude.
Photos by Chelsie Walter. Interview by Kiersten Feuchter.