The Westwood Coalition hosted a community meeting on February 18th to share Coalition work of the past few months and to invite perspectives from Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation’s (WestCURC) executive director Elizabeth Bartley on the work ahead related to the redevelopment of the neighborhood business district (NBD). After welcoming 40+ attendees on a cold night with plenty of competition for their time, Mary Jenkins, the Coalition’s facilitator, reviewed the recommendations that the Coalition made in October, including the adoption of the Triangle/Bowtie option, corollary improvements on Town Hall grounds and throughout the historic business district, and a planning process for the implementation of the improvements. She also highlighted the foundation upon which those recommendations were made: the community process that identified the NBD’s strengths and opportunities, challenges and threats, as well as residents’ goals, such as a walkable, attractive business district, retail shops, a civic or green space, nearby parking, and options for gathering and dining.
Next, Ms. Jenkins described an asset mapping process that the Coalition has been conducting, to identify each Coalition member organization’s and businesses’ assets, including personnel, expertise, materials, facilities, constituents, networks, and economic power, all with the intent of connected these assets well to the projects that lie ahead to redevelop the NBD effectively. She described the asset identification as preparatory for achieving the goals set by the community which are big and complex.
Then Elizabeth Bartley, WestCURC’s executive director, the chair of this year’s Cincinnati Neighborhood Summit, and a cofounder of a research group on Sustainability, Culture & Place, spoke about the multifaceted, complex process before the Westwood Coalition and WestCURC now. She also noted that the city has held up Westwood’s community engagement process as an excellent example. Ms. Bartley spoke to a number of positive developments in the NBD including businesses at the Ruehlman building as newer anchors, the Line 21 brewery planned for part of the KS Designs building, the WestCURC acquisition of the historic firehouse, Madcap Puppets’ theater plans for the Bell Building, and forward movement on a proposal for a community arts & entertainment district. She also highlighted Westwood Town Hall and its grounds as a locus of activity and a desirable ongoing center of civic and community life, despite recent stints on the chopping block, as evidenced by Mayor Cranley’s suggestions for the grounds during his State of the City address in the fall and by recent programming on the property. She described Town Hall as a destination and part of the vision, not just the backdrop on a postcard of Westwood.
Ms. Bartley referred to her effort to understand the means by which to effect change in a NBD, including city processes and engagement with a coalition of city representatives to negotiate and plan. She also mentioned other prospective partnerships and resources like the Port Authority, the Community Building Institute (CBI), the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and others, as we seek to grow our expertise and insight. WestCURC is working with CBI to map out steps and identify opportunities as both WestCURC and, more broadly, the Coalition, line up the work plan for the months to come, to tie WestCURC’s work into Coalition plans, and to engage community assets.
Next, attendees asked questions and made comments. One attendee mentioned newer businesses as assets, in addition to the landmark buildings and businesses identified by the community earlier. Another person asked about a market study. Ms. Bartley described that as a critical next step to collect data to inform and support development that meshes with community desires and that will be successful and sustainable. An attendee spoke to the value of community education in a civic space. A question was asked about the community entertainment district footprint. The speakers noted that it is proposed as the same as the form based code area in the NBD. Another attendee asked for information about the status of Bridgetown Brewing’s building project. The speakers commented that they seem to be in the building permit phase and directed people to the Facebook page for updates.
A participant commented on the perceived need for more parking. Ms. Jenkins noted that current NBD parking lots are generally underused but said that attention to evolving parking needs is necessary and will be addressed, in part, by the traffic flow changes associated with the triangle. An attendee asked about WestCURC’s access to developers. Ms. Bartley and Ms. Jenkins commented on the ways that development will occur: planned development that we would market and recruit, development that happens organically through the interest of property owners and developers, and the development that happens when unexpected opportunities surface.
An attendee asked about market constraints or capacity for businesses. Ms. Bartley commented that there is ample room for and interest in business development in the NBD and noted that the market study would help with a more concrete sense of the particular needs and capacity. Lastly, another participant remarked on the changes in progress already, calling it an improvement to the quality of life in Westwood. She asked about the business owners’ perspective on the revitalization plans. Tom Bonhaus, a Coalition member and business owner in the NBD, remarked that the energy is very positive, that there are a few detractors, but that generally, business owners are eager to have more eyes on the street and to see these possibilities and community wishes come to fruition.
In closing, Ms. Jenkins and Ms. Bartley described the work phase now as complex, dependent on connections and expertise, and not likely to result in immediate tangible, physical evidence of development. They asked attendees to be encouraged by the work in progress and to offer their expertise, ideas, and contacts to the Coalition and its member organizations.