Monday, December 29, 2003

Columbia Tusculum redo planned

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBIA TUSCULUM - Cincinnati's oldest neighborhood is about to undergo a makeover.

A revitalization of Columbia Tusculum is afoot with a $16 million downtown square project, a $1.5 million boulevard project, and a community school that recently broke ground in the neighboring East End neighborhood.

Meanwhile, an Anderson Township developer envisions 35 homes starting at $250,000, one of the largest single-family home developments to emerge in Cincinnati in years.

"It's like a groundswell that is coming to fruition," said Dilip Tripathy, treasurer of the Columbia Tusculum Community Council. "Finally, after many, many false starts, it looks like it is going to happen. People can't wait.

"We'd like to see a bakery, small grocery, a deli, those little resources we drive to Hyde Park or Anderson Township for now. We'd love to have them here."

For nine years, plans have been discussed for a new town square area along Columbia Parkway between Delta and Stanley avenues. .

The project, called Columbia Square, recently hit a milestone when the developer, Al Neyer Inc. of Blue Ash, closed on two 4-acre parcels for the mix of stores and offices. The company has an option to buy a third parcel on the corner of Columbia Parkway and Delta that's now occupied by a YMCA branch.

Construction could begin as soon as mid-2004 or 2005, depending on market demands. No tenants have been signed. The project is expected to bring at least 160 full-time jobs, city records show.

"Columbia Tusculum is rich in history and among the neighborhoods that define Cincinnati and give it itsunique character," said Dave Neyer, president of Al Neyer, Inc. "Columbia Square will be a mixed-use project that creates a new downtown area, conducive to walking, working, shopping and meeting."

Residents and business owners say the development will create a downtown feel in Columbia Tusculum and fill a retail services void.

"A lot of people see potential in the neighborhood," said Ralph Aust, vice chairman of the Columbia Tusculum Community Development Corp.

"After being in decline for a number of years through the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of property became rental and absentee landlords," he recalled. "But now we are seeing a lot of people move back into the community. It's a great spot."

Preliminary plans for Columbia Square call for a 32,000 square-foot office building on the northwest corner of Delta and Columbia Parkway, and a 69,000 square-foot retail/office complex on the south side of Columbia between Delta and Stanley.

The south side complex would consist of three two-story buildings along Columbia and a restaurant on the southeast corner of the property, city records show.

Neyer has a contract to purchase another parcel that also includes the YMCA building. The YMCA is moving to the East End Community School under construction at Stanley and Kellogg avenues. The school should open in fall 2005.

The city also plans to redo Columbia Parkway from Delta Avenue to Tusculum Avenue. Existing pavement, curbs and sidewalks will be replaced. There will be center medians with grass and trees to convert the strip into a pedestrian-friendly area. Construction is expected to be complete in June 2005.

More projects may be coming.

Gary Osterfeld, owner and president of Osterfeld Construction Inc. of Anderson Township, has been buying nearly 40 parcels along Strafer Street. Now, he is trying to work out plans with city officials to build 35 homes that would sell starting at about $250,000.

He also plans to build an office building at the corner of Strafer and Stanley.

Osterfeld has been monitoring the Neyer development and, now that it's moving forward, he says his plans will, too.

"Columbia Tusculum has a lot of charm and close proximity to downtown and the Ohio River, yet it's an older, quaint neighborhood," he said.

"It has the potential for new construction, and there is a large demand for residential development in that area. Hyde Park and Mount Lookout are becoming saturated. It's all moving east from downtown."

At a glance

Columbia Tusculum is the oldest Cincinnati neighborhood. It was founded as Columbia in 1788 and predates Losantiville (later Cincinnati) by a month

Columbia Tusculum is undergoing major revitalization, including:

• Columbia Square: A $16 million downtown planned along Columbia Parkway between Delta and Stanley avenues.

• Streetscape project: Improvements along Eastern Avenue are expected to wrap up next year.

• New housing: Gary Osterfeld, owner and president of Osterfeld Construction Inc. of Anderson Township, has been buying nearly 40 parcels along Strafer Street for 35 homes that would sell for $250,000 and up.



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