Saturday, March 21, 1998
Group wants ethnic districts
Over-the-Rhine project proposed

The Cincinnati Enquirer

William Moy, center, and Jim Flick, right, talk with Marco DiMarco, owner of Scotti's Italian Restaurant on Vine Street downtown.
(Saed Hindash photo)
| ZOOM |

An egg roll and dumplings stuffed with shrimp in a Chinatown. Sauerbraten in a Germantown. Macaroni with tomato sauce in Little Italy. Barbecued ribs in an African-American Village. And green beer in an Irish Free-State.

All that within a quarter of a mile in Over-the-Rhine.

That is the dream of three local men with diverse ethnic backgrounds who would like to develop what they call a ''heritage'' project in the city's historic neighborhood.

The plan was prepared by the Heritage Foundation, a non-profit corporation owned by Dr. Ronald Cheek, president of EMER, an emergency medical corporation providing services in Dearborn County; Jim Flick, owner of Flick and Associates Accounting Firm; and William Moy, a real estate developer.

Mr. Flick estimates the project will cost $250 million, which the corporation hopes to get from private investments, commercial loans, public subscriptions, federal, state and local grants. ''As the sponsoring group, we will be the committee directing whatever public grants become available to potential businesses,'' Mr. Flick said. ''But the bulk of the finances will come from private investors. The Chinatown area alone has already attracted 50 potential investors.''

Heritage Foundation
proposed project
The group discussed the idea of a Chinatown four years ago and received numerous calls from investors and from other ethnic groups. They said they decided to expand the idea to include other ethnic groups after Chinatown gained support from as far away as Chicago. ''Once you visit ethnic areas in other cities, you can see the heritage and get the atmosphere of what it is like to be in that kind of area,'' said Dr. Cheek.

But some city officials are weighing the idea cautiously. Andi Udris, director of the city's economic development, said he is concerned about massive relocation.

Displacement issues

''I am not opposed to the project,'' Mr. Udris said. ''But what I want to see in Over-the-Rhine is a process of maintaining the existing residential area and developing vacant lots and buildings.'' That sentiment is shared by Over-the-Rhine residents in this downtown neighborhood, just north of the city's central business district. Any planned redevelopment is viewed with suspicion by its 9,509 residents, 7,138 living below poverty status.

About 97.3 percent of Over-the-Rhine residents are renters and their biggest fear is displacement, as expressed by Frank Coleman, 62. Mr. Coleman, who has lived at Vine and 15th streets for 20 years, has mixed emotions.

''If it is going to help the poor people down here, I'm for it,'' He said. ''A lot of these buildings need to be torn down and replaced, but I am afraid people will have to move out. We might not be able to afford the rent in the new buildings.''

That fear is also shared by Herbert Washington, city neighborhood analyst for Over-the-Rhine.

Mr. Washington keeps a tab on new development and renovations to improve the neighborhood. He is concerned about what kind of housing long-time residents can afford.

''I think the heritage project is a great idea, but I am really concerned about renovating apartments that will cause displacement of people who have lived in Over-the-Rhine all their lives,'' Mr. Washington said. ''Unless developers get enough federal subsidy, they can't renovate apartments, charge the same rent and pay off their debt services. If they hike the rent, most of the residents there now can't afford it.''

What Cincinnati means

Over-the-Rhine is the ideal neighborhood for recapturing the ethnic history of Cincinnati, said Marge Hammelrath, director of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, whose mission is bringing in businesses and keeping residents there.

''Over-the-Rhine is where the ethnic history of Cincinnati begins,'' she said. ''Any person you talk with has either lived in Over-the-Rhine or has a relative who once lived there. I think the heritage project is a wonderful and bold idea to really celebrate what Cincinnati means.''

One factor that may prevent massive relocation in Over-the-Rhine may be the number of vacant houses and lots in the area.

Of the 5,778 housing units in the area, 1,365 are vacant.

''Our main concentration will be on the vacant lots and buildings,'' said Mr. Moy. ''If you look in the area where we have planned Chinatown, there is a huge area of vacant lots. There are enough vacancies in the area where developers can build and co-exist with the residents there. Part of retaining the heritage in the area is keeping people there. A Chinatown doesn't have to be all Chinese or a Little Italy doesn't have to be all Italians.''

Mr. Moy said getting the money for the project is not a big problem. ''Acquiring land and keeping people there are the biggest obstacles,'' he said.