Thursday, December 11, 2003

Downtown group now hiring

Corporate, civic leaders putting staff in place

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A new private development group charged with revitalizing downtown Cincinnati, the riverfront and Over-the-Rhine expects to hire a Fountain Square retail developer by Christmas and an executive director early next year.

The two key moves follow six months of work by corporate and civic leaders in establishing the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., known as 3CDC.

The group's task: trigger construction of homes, shops and offices from downtown through Over-the-Rhine. So far, 3CDC leaders believe they've established a framework to make that happen.

"Everything seems to be forming well," said Jack Rouse, CEO of Jack Rouse Associates and chairman of a 3CDC working group for a planned riverfront development known as The Banks.

"But we sure have a lot of work to do."

The group Wednesday issued a six-month report of accomplishments, including:

• Forming a 23-person board chaired by Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley.

• Appointing retired P&G executive Tom Blinn as interim director of 3CDC while a national search firm scouts candidates for a full-time leader. A permanent director should be hired early in 2004.

• Creating three groups, focusing on Fountain Square, Over-the-Rhine and the Banks.

The Fountain Square group, headed by Federated Department Stores chairman Jim Zimmerman, is in the final stages of selecting one of three retail developers to recruit shops along the square. Finalists include Urban Retail Properties of Chicago, Baltimore-based Williams Jackson Ewing Inc. and Street-Works of White Plains, N.Y.

A Fountain Square overhaul - including possible removal of the square's center stage, new landscaping and a vibrant collection of shops and restaurants - was a key recommendation of New York consultants John Alschuler and Cooper, Robertson & Partners. The goal: Make Fountain Square the heart of downtown that pumps new life to surrounding blocks.

Developer and former Cincinnati Mayor Arn Bortz, who serves on 3CDC's Fountain Square working group, is impressed by the group's early accomplishments.

"In a typical P&G fashion, things are being done thoughtfully, thoroughly and well," said Bortz, whose company, Towne Properties, was one of four firms that developed Fountain Place next to Fountain Square.

The Over-the-Rhine group, headed by Kroger chairman Joe Pichler, recently hired a project manager. Des Bracey, a planning and economic development assistant for the Washington, D.C., deputy mayor, will start his new position Jan. 5. The group's initial focus will be revitalizing Washington Park and Vine Street. The Banks group, headed by Rouse, received good news Tuesday. The Ohio Department of Transportation announced it would pay $11 million of the $56 million tab to build parking garages that will serve as the foundation of The Banks.

Private developers also are seeking a federal tax break for another $90 million worth of projects in or near downtown. In September, 3CDC arranged grant applications for the projects through the Treasury Department's New Markets Tax Credits program.

The program gives investors a 39 percent tax credit for investment in distressed communities. The federal government will announce grant recipients in April.


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