Thursday, April 12, 2001
Some business owners, residents felt targeted
By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Marge Hammelrath was eager to get to work Wednesday morning to assess the damage that rioters inflicted on her Main Street office the night before.
A tire shattered a front window, but the Over-the-Rhine Foundation's building was otherwise intact. She had a new window installed before 11 a.m.
I didn't want wood in my window because I didn't want to look like I was beaten, said Ms. Hammelrath, wiping away tears. We've worked on this neighborhood for 15 years and have come a long way.
Business owners along the popular Main Street corridor puzzled over why they were targeted by a group of protesters wielding metal sticks, baseball bats and soda pop cans. Windows were shattered and people were pulled out of cars and assaulted. At least one business owner guarded his store with a gun.
Because they have the most successful commercial strip in the predominately African-American neighborhood, some Main Street business owners think they were targeted by roving mobs angered by changes over the last decade. And they fear the uprising could slow or even halt future commercial and residential development of the impoverished neighborhood.
Over-the-Rhine's population dropped 20.2 percent in the 1990s, according to the latest census, but Main Street gained in vibrancy during that time. Rows of buildings between Central Parkway and Liberty Street have been renovated, attracting a lively mix of housing, nightclubs, Internet businesses and art galleries.
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There is no more visible strip of gentrification than this stretch of Main Street, said David Smith, owner of DesignSmith Gallery.
Mr. Smith and others recalled a harrowing day and night of protests and violence that they fear will leave a lasting impression on the mainly white suburban residents who work and play there.
Leah Sweeney-Spurrier, who lives off Main Street and operates a design business, barricaded her front door and garage entrance after hearing gunfire early Wednesday morning. She later helped escort to safety a neighbor hurt by a brick.
It was a night of white terror, she said. It turned from a police issue to a black-white issue.
Down here, I've never seen a black-white issue on the street, said Walter Solomon, a co-founder of Main Street Ventures, a nonprofit business incubator. Safety has not been an issue on a street inhabited by the programmers and MBAs running the tech companies and the mostly poor local residents.
"Obviously a setback'
Because of the previous lack of problems, others discounted the theory that Main Street was vandalized because white-owned businesses have moved in. Crowds of youths were merely looking for an easy target as police pushed them out of downtown and into Over-the-Rhine.
This is obviously a setback, but I don't know that we were targeted, said Bob Schneider, a Main Street developer and Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce president. It was more they passed through here and worked out their anger and frustration.
Jim Moll, whose Urban Sites Properties controls 22 rental and commercial properties in Over-the-Rhine, has worked hard to alleviate concerns about the neighborhood's safety. This week's events will make it more difficult to draw people to Over-the-Rhine.
It's definitely a blow, in attracting urban dwellers, Mr. Moll said.
His company operates the recently renovated Emery Center apartment complex on Central Parkway. The building has leased quickly, but he worries about the concerns created by this week's events.
I have literally been in the street with tenants all day, said Mr. Moll. I looked into the eyes of ter ror.
Mr. Moll invited his tenants to stay with him at his 14th Street home. Many who felt trapped in their apartments - hearing only gunfire, helicopters and sirens - accepted his offer.
Reporters John Byczkowski and Susan Vela contributed.
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