Cincy a changed city since Reds’ last playoff run

Less than two years ago, little more than a giant parking lot

occupied the half-mile between the stadiums of the Cincinnati Reds

and Bengals along the Ohio River.

With the Reds returning to the National League playoffs,

baseball fans from around Ohio and beyond will find a much

different Cincinnati since the last time the team played in the

postseason in 2010.

After more than $600 million in new development between the two

stadiums, there are now six distinct bars and restaurants, a

popular riverfront park and high-end apartments that are touted as

being ”Cincinnati’s premier live-work-play destination” and

charge rent in the thousands.

A few blocks over is a new $322 million, 41-story office tower

that’s the tallest building in the city, and a 20-minute walk away

is the trendy Over-the-Rhine historic district that used to be best

known as a haven for crime and the site of the city’s 2001 race

riots. Now dozens of bedraggled buildings in the district have been

renovated into popular bars and restaurants and a once crime-prone

park has undergone a $48 million makeover to become one of the

city’s best venues for concerts, outdoor movie viewings and flea

markets.

”When you look at the changes over the last two years, it’s

night and day,” said Mike Willis, 62, who was born and raised in

Cincinnati and is a longtime Reds fan.

”What used to happen is you’d park at the game, walk to the

game, get your food and all your stuff there, watch the game, and

then you’d go get in your car and drive home,” said Willis, who

has been going to Reds games since he was a kid and now blogs about

the team.

”But not anymore,” said Willis, who now takes his wife to get

a bite to eat near the stadium before the game and likes to stick

around afterward.

Willis is trying to snag tickets to one of the Reds’ playoff

games. The team begins its playoff run Saturday and Sunday in San

Francisco and returns for the first home game in the five-game

series on Tuesday.

Since the late 1990s, the city and Hamilton County have been

working to reclaim Cincinnati’s riverfront from about 200 years of

manufacturing and commerce, and turn it into a destination where

people can live, work and play.

The biggest development between the stadiums, known as The

Banks, drew plenty of skepticism from locals as the project was

delayed repeatedly amid infighting by local leaders and deals with

developers that fell apart. As the years passed, the area became

known as ”the mud pit.”

When Mayor Mark Mallory first took office in 2005, the wheels on

the project began turning much faster. The city and county teamed

up and got two developers on board and began figuring out

financing, which comes from a combination of private money, tax

dollars and some federal stimulus funds.

”We weren’t going to let petty differences keep the project

from happening,” said Mallory, who said he made the project a

priority to boost morale in the city.

”You have to understand where we had been. You had a long

period where a company would leave downtown Cincinnati and go to

northern Kentucky or a business would close up shop,” he said.

”When you went downtown, you got the impression that the core was

dying, and that’s a morale-killer. We needed to be able to show

that we were focused on turning that around.”

The annual economic impact of The Banks is projected to reach

nearly $92 million a year, according to a study released in May by

the University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center that was

commissioned by the developers of The Banks.

The study said that amount is expected to increase to about $276

million a year once other phases of The Banks are finished, for a

total of $2.7 billion in economic impact between 2011 and 2020.

Among other changes coming to Ohio’s third-largest city is a new

$400 million downtown casino set to open in the spring and a

streetcar slated to open in the summer of 2015 connecting the

riverfront, downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

Still to come at The Banks are more apartments, a hotel, shops

and an office tower. The city also recently began accepting design

concepts to overhaul a somewhat-jarring area in between the

riverfront and downtown known as ”the decks,” which are four

bridges over a busy street.

The city wants to connect the gaps between the bridges to build

a clean slate for a brand-new project that could mean more green

space, more shops or more living spaces, or a combination of all

those things, depending on the ideas that come in.

Rachel Freytag, a 25-year-old in marketing who was born and

raised in northern Kentucky just across the Ohio River from

Cincinnati, said she hardly ever visited downtown until the last

year or so.

”I used to be a little afraid of downtown, especially

Over-the-Rhine,” said Freytag, whose home in Covington has a view

of Cincinnati’s skyline. ”Now there’s much more development.

People are flocking to the area.”

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