By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NORWOOD - Long-ignored industrial land along the Norwood Lateral is emerging as the city's new development hot spot.
"It's the heart of the heart of it all," Mayor Victor Schneider said. "This will revitalize the north end of the business district."
The headliner of a redevelopment plan is a specialized heart hospital where Camaros once rolled off the General Motors assembly line. Nearby, offices could soon fill buildings where American Laundry Machinery once built laundry and dry-cleaning equipment.
A national environmental engineering company plans to move into almost a quarter of the former American Laundry space by January. The Ohio Heart and Vascular Hospital could open by early 2005.
The two developments - which total 35 acres - are steaming toward a City Council vote on Oct. 14. Among the issues facing council: a $2 million traffic plan that calls for reworking the intersection where Montgomery Road crosses the Norwood Lateral and a yet-to-be-detailed incentive package for the proposed heart hospital.
Combined with the popularity of the Rookwood shopping centers at the other end of the city, the new projects continue Norwood's shift from a blue-collar city to one dominated by offices, shops and medical facilities.
Commercial uses now comprise nearly 10 percent of Norwood's 3 square miles, according to the Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission. That's sixth-highest among the county's 49 cities, villages and townships.
Construction of the $60 million heart hospital would erase the last vestiges of Norwood's automobile age. Central Parke, a complex of offices and shops, replaced GM's factory just south on Montgomery after the automaker left in 1987.
The heart hospital complex plan calls for a four-story hospital building and at least one four-story medical office building near the northwest corner of Montgomery Road as it crosses over the Norwood Lateral. The site plan for the 22-acre development also includes a new Kroger store and space for other medical offices.
At least 20 health-related businesses - including three kidney dialysis centers and a urology center - have located just south of the Norwood Lateral.
The latest flurry comes after years of stagnation for the land northwest of the Lateral and Montgomery Road intersection. The land sat idle because of environmental problems at the former GM site. Developer Al Neyer Inc. got the all-clear from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to use the land in 2002.
The buzz created by Rookwood and the new Cornerstone of Norwood office building helped make the case for new development off of the Lateral, developer Steve Armsey said.
"All of those things go to building some synergy for the community," Armsey said. He is vice president of brownfield redevelopment for Neyer Properties, which is turning the old American Laundry buildings into 115,000 square feet of modern office space.
The construction sends the message to other developers that the city is development-friendly.
"I think the community overall understands and appreciates business," said David Main, president of the Norwood-based Hamilton County Development Co.
Councilman Thomas Williams, a candidate for mayor, says that he wants to accommodate the doctors at the Ohio Heart Health Center who would build the hospital in a joint venture with Deaconess Associations Inc.
"It'll be a prestigious company to have."
Nearby retail and restaurants - offered not only at Rookwood but also at Oakley's new Center of Cincinnati - also go a long way toward selling office space, said Bill Schneller, vice president of commercial real estate giant CB Richard Ellis.
The business owner "has to think about his employees - where are they going to go to lunch?" he said.
The hospital and American Laundry sites are just blocks from the Lateral, which provides easy access to both Interstates 71 and 75.
Norwood, a community of about 21,000 people, is centrally situated in Greater Cincinnati.
"A lot of tenants are just tired of going all the way out to Fields Ertel Road and fighting all the traffic," Schneller said.
Development spurs road work
Road work to accommodate new businesses could begin next year and finish in 2005, city safety-service director Jack Cameron said.
The ramp to the Norwood Lateral from Montgomery Road will be removed because left turns onto the ramp clog traffic. The Ohio Department of Transportation supports removing the ramp because only about 1,100 cars a day use it.
Norwood Avenue will be widened from Montgomery Road east to the ramps. Stop signs will be replaced with traffic lights.
Norwood Avenue, which currently dead-ends at Montgomery Road, would be extended west past the proposed heart hospital and former American Laundry sites to Section Road.
The south end of Carthage Avenue will be closed, turning it into a dead-end street and removing it from the busy Montgomery-Norwood intersection.
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