Northside, Meet the Gantry

It’s impossible not to notice the prominent 131-unit rental living community and retail space currently under construction on the corner of Blue Rock and Hamilton Avenues. Slated for first tenants to being occupancy in December, the building has been dubbed “The Gantry,” named after a mechanism used in lumber yards like the one that previously occupied the site for over 50 years. The new, mixed-use development is a project of Milhaus Ventures, an Indianapolis-based development and property management company. In total, it features two four-story and one three-story building, as well as 8,000 square feet of groundlevel retail along the business corridor on Hamilton Avenue.

The process of turning a vacant industrial space into a high-density residential and retail development didn’t happen overnight. When the Myron G. Johnson & Son Lumber Co. closed in 2005, the site almost became a suburban-style Walgreens. Neighborhood activists and architects contested the development, which many felt was not in keeping with the existing historic character of the community. In 2006, the City of Cincinnati purchased the land parcel and the property sat vacant until 2012, when city council passed a motion to involve the community in the process of redeveloping the corner.

A steering committee comprised of local architects, nearby residents, and community members was formed as part of the community vetting process. Through a competitive process the city selected Milhaus Ventures to develop the corner, and brought designs before the steering committee and community council.

“It looked like it was really going to be a value to Northside from an economic standpoint,” steering committee member Michael Wizer recalls, “but Northside is really a group of eclectic people with their own opinions.” Northside Business Association President Bruce Demske also sat on the steering committee and was a strong proponent of the development,

“There was consensus amongst the business association members. We want density, period.” The new development is expected to bring an influx of new and affluent residents attracted to the unique and quirky small businesses for which Northside is known. An increase in affluent residents will certainly bring positive economic changes to Northside. But, others wondered, would this increase in wealthier residents be a harbinger of changes that could push out socioeconomic diversity? “Northside is absolutely changing in terms of its demographic, gentrifying in a certain way,” Wizer said, “but it’s hard to gauge what effect the Gantry will have on the demographic simply because the demographic is shifting in a bigger way.” Demske pointed out that “You still don’t have to look very far to see that Northside has a fair share of lowincome housing…though every year we have less. It’s something to think about in a neighborhood that is proud of our diversity and draws a lot from that diversity.”

In addition to discussion about how the development would affect local business and housing prices, reception also varied regarding the appearance of the building. Some residents questioned how the modern aesthetic of the building, which differed from existing buildings on Hamilton, would fit into the historic character of the neighborhood. Local architectural internand community council member Mary Jo Minerich helped to push for a simplified appearance to the building that she hoped would help to make it feel more integrated into the community. “It has a lot to do with the position of the site, that’s what makes it a lightning rod or commentary,” Minerich said. Some voiced concerns that the building was generic, as though it could have been plucked out of Clifton or Over-The-Rhine. “There is this sense that this neighborhood is special and deserves something special,” Minerich said. Despite some misgivings, “all the right questions were asked,” according to Wizer, and Milhaus ultimately received the community council’s blessing to move forward with construction. “The community had a bigger hand in this than nearly any other development in Cincinnati. Milhaus came to the table and was open to community input,” said Demske, “it was to their credit that they solicited our input and actually listened to it.”

Jodi Ridings, the Director of Residential Services at the Gantry, echoes that sentiment. “From the beginning we worked hand in hand with the council and the business association. Now we just want to make sure that we stick to what we promised which is that we’re here to help the community and to work with the community.” Ridings explained that the Gantry is focused on bringing in “a demographic that can help support local businesses.” The units are market rate, ranging in price from $683 for a 385 sq. ft. studio to $1,545 for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment. Though the apartments are fresh and bright, with large windows and energy efficient features that make the property a silver LEED certification candidate, the property is also streamlined and minimal to encourage residents to venture into the community rather than staying insulated inside the apartment community. As Gantry Marketing Manager Jordan Hovanec explains, “The Gantry does not have any physical amenities within the building like a fitness center because we want the residents to be able to go out and enjoy Northside. Northside itself is the amenity.”

The Gantry will not only bring in new residents in support of local business, it also features retail space built into the ground level. Kathleen Norris of Urban Fast Forward is in charge of recruiting initial retail tenants. “I specialize in independent retail and restaurateurs,” Norris explained, “and I certainly won’t bring you an Applebee’s!” Though the retail is at a slightly higher cost per square foot than other spaces in Northside, Norris underscores the unique opportunity that the Gantry brings. “With this new construction, businesses can start with a neutral space and make it what they want. It’s bigger than almost any available space [already in Northside].” Announcements of the initial retail partners are expected in early 2016.

As the move-in dates for new residents and businesses draw near, many look forward to the changes the Gantry will bring to the community with excitement, curiosity, and maybe even a little trepidation. “People are protective of their neighborhoods,” Norris said, but “the Gantry is going to bring so much to Northside.” You can stay up to date on goings on at the Gantry via Facebook and on their website, www.gantrylife.com. Individuals interested in leasing options, employment opportunities, or with questions on the new property are encouraged to reach out to Jodi Ridings at jodi.ridings@gantrylife.com

1 Comment on Northside, Meet the Gantry

  1. Thanks for the well written article!

    Just as an FYI:
    This text leaves out The Factory Square Fine Arts Festival that happened on the, then vacant site, in 2011. It was an award winning arts event, which took over a year to plan, that first attracted attention to the corner of Hamilton & Blue Rock …ultimately sparking development interest that had not existed prior.

    Regretfully the unexpected success of the event lead to the city abruptly canceling PAR-Projects’ lease on the land, but it’s great to see what’s happening now! This is simply mentioned to demonstrate the power of the arts.

    Here’s a few article links if interested:

    + http://www.soapboxmedia.com/devnews/092011factoryfestival.aspx

    + http://citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-24235-factory_square_fine_arts_festival.html

    + http://citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-24642-breathtaking_views_citybeat%E2%80%99s_visual_arts_writers_pick_their_favorite_2011_exhibitions.html

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