3 focuses in Hamilton: Neighborhoods, High/Main corridor, riverfront

Officials are still refining a plan for how Hamilton should create its future during the next 15 years, but officials have determined what the top three goals will be.

“The city is still working through the strategic plan update, but generally speaking the focus will be riverfront development; continued revitalization of High/Main Street; and an emphasis on all 17 neighborhoods,” City Manager Joshua Smith said.

The riverfront development is envisioned to extend from the proposed Spooky Nook Sports at Champion Mill indoor sports mega-complex on North B Street to perhaps as far south as the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum. Neighborhood development in the city’s 17 neighborhoods would provide housing alternatives for the workers Hamilton officials want to fill jobs coming to the area.

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East-west traffic through Hamilton already is a critical issue, Smith told council members in August, and several people have told him they moved out of Hamilton because of it. For that reason, city officials plan to push hard for money to build one — maybe two — bridges across the Great Miami River to speed the traffic along, particularly with the concerns of many that traffic can significantly worsen when Spooky Nook opens in the former paper mill.

Smith said he hopes Spooky Nook traffic won’t be too bad if most visitors, as expected, arrive for indoor sports tournaments after 6 p.m. on Fridays and leave on Sunday afternoons, when High Street traffic is at a minimum.

Each of the three focus areas will have goals, strategies that will be pursued, and measures of success, Smith said.

For example, officials plan to “quantifiably improve the speed which traffic can get through downtown Hamilton,” Smith said.

In a related matter, officials developing the “Plan Hamilton” comprehensive plan will convene a meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, 101 S. Monument Ave., in Hamilton. During the meeting, city leaders and the community will help develop the plan’s framework using interactive activities on such topics as land use, the riverfront and transportation.

During a meeting in August, while officials were working to determine what the city should focus on as its top goals to those three, administrators and council discussed how the three goals are intertwined.

Mayor Pat Moeller said one key focus of the three goals must be not only to attract new businesses, but also to help improve the lives of existing city residents, including by providing jobs.

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Council Member Matt Von Stein asked Smith, “You talk about bringing jobs in, where are these people going to move?”

Council Member Tim Naab, agreed, saying, “It’s great to have these opportunities, but how do we move the needle for 62,500 (residents) to become 65,000, and where are those nice people going to live? Where are they going to work?”

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The top priority of the three, by a slim margin, seemed to be riverfront development, which Council Member Rob Wile suggested should be limited to perhaps 1/2-mile or 3/4-miles from the High/Main Bridge so it’s a walk-able distance. Others noted that trolleys, pedicabs or other vehicles can transport the thousands of athletes and their families who would visit Spooky Nook each weekend further distances.

Smith said his vision for a few years from now is similar to an area of Hamilton County along the Little Miami River between Mariemont and Terrace Park, where the 50 West micro-brewery, sand volleyball, canoe and kayak rentals, an upscale pizza restaurant and other amenities are clustered.

One area where the city sees potential for similar development is the section along Pyramid Hill Boulevard where Columbia Lanes and the Eagles Club are located.

“If you have a sports complex to the north, you’re coming south on B Street, and you intersect with Main Street that’s going to have a new restaurant right on the river in Quarter Barrel, you progress further to the south, and that is redeveloped in the next five years to be something more similar to this, does that move the needle for Hamilton?” Smith suggested.

Moeller was among those who advocated for “a multi-focus” — not just riverfront development, but also a hard focus on neighborhood improvements and transportation, for example.

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“We’ll get more well-paying jobs if we have both more amenities and also a better housing stock,” Moeller said. “And we can’t forget the workforce development, and the partnership the city has to have with not just the public schools, but all educational facilities in this area.”

Smith said he envisions people dining on the roof of the new Quarter Barrel location being built out at the southwest corner of B and Main streets, watching people kayaking, canoeing, paddle-boarding, riding on the bike paths. That kind of activity will make more people want to live in the Butler County seat, he said.

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As for additional bridges, Smith said: “Here’s my thought on that: It is a foregone conclusion we’re going to actually pursued one if not two new bridges across Hamilton. That is a foregone conclusion. That’ll be in the (comprehensive) plan. We’re going to hit OKI (the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, which recommends transportation spending in the region) hard on that. There’s no doubt, I mean, that is a key cornerstone to the comp plan. That is included already.”

Here’s one reason for that, he said: “I will tell you when I think about residential development, the one thing I hear more than anything else, is ‘I have moved out of Hamilton because I can’t get through Hamilton. Traffic is bad. It takes too long.’”

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