Hamilton riverfront development on the rise

With national operator RowAmerica now at the helm of the Great Miami Rowing Center, a privately funded park in the works next to RiversEdge Amphitheater, and continuing efforts to create a multi-use indoor sports complex and ballpark at the former Champion Paper property, city stakeholders call these riverfront projects “a key component to economic development.”

A yearlong study by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers partnered with the Miami Conservancy District and Ohio’s Great Corridor Association to examine 99 miles of the Great Miami River Corridor beginning in the northern city of Sidney in Shelby County and winding its way down to Hamilton. The study’s results, released last January, validates the economic potential of the corridor, that could be generated by tourist attractions and more small businesses that could then lead to attracting a larger workforce to the whole region.

The USACE also found some challenges — gaps in the bike trail, low head dams that create navigation challenges, a lack of activity hubs, the need for more overnight lodging; and physical and visual barriers due to flood protection system levees — ones that Hamilton is well on the way to meeting, stakeholders say.

“You must have amenities that people want to keep and attract them,” City Manager Joshua Smith said.

“Moreover, you must have the people to keep and attract businesses.”

Since Feb. 15, national rowing management firm RowAmerica took over operations and programming for the Great Miami Rowing Center at 330 N. B St, now re-branded as RowAmerica Hamilton. The GMRC board now serves as a fundraising arm that helps the center finance inclusive programs for low-income rowers and for the adaptive rowing program, as well as funding for facility improvements, said Joy Nix, RowAmerica Hamilton’s director of rowing.

Nix said that RowAmerica was drawn to the GMRC and Hamilton because of the strong community support already in place, and because the firm did not yet have any adaptive rowing programs in any of their locations. The goal is now to use the program that the GMRC started to develop a sustainable structure for adaptive programming that can be brought to their other rowhouses. For their part, RowAmerica is able to support getting new equipment and attracting experienced coaches for the center.

“You can come here knowing that you’re getting the best programming,” Nix said.

Since RowAmerica took over, Nix said she has seen “a great response of interest,” with 45 students already rowing and over 280 students signed up to learn more about the center’s levels of programming, from intro to rowing — which begins March 31 — to competitive racing. The center will also begin programming in the summer geared to adults of all abilities to team up for some light competition, trying out a new water sport, and socializing on the waterfront. More information about RowAmerica Hamilton can be found at rowhamilton.com.

Next to the rowing center, a possible sports complex and ball park on the former paper mill property are still in the planning stages, said Frances Mennone, GMRC board member and project manager for Moses B. Glick, LLC. Feasibility studies came back positive early this year to move forward on the project and explore possible funding sources. Moses B. Glick also contributed $172,000 of private demolition work to the rowing center, affirming their commitment to expanding riverfront development, Mennone said.

Across the river, the RiversEdge Summer Concert Series is readying to begin its fourth year, and this year for the first time has a daylong music festival programmed. David Shaw, a Hamilton native and frontman for the nationally recognized band the Revivalists partnered with the city to bring seven music sets to RiversEdge on June 20, the proceeds of which will fund the city’s Fourth of July parade.

Hometown brewery Municipal Brew Works hopes to be serving up craft beers in the former municipal building at 20 High St. by fall 2015, and a $3.5 million expansion of the RiversEdge Park, to be named Marcum Park after the family who funded it, will provide another meeting ground for the Hamilton community to enjoy the riverfront by summer 2016.

“As downtown Hamilton’s backyard, this is an important piece to the revitalization of our downtown and our city,” Smith said.

By this summer, Hamilton will have filled at least one of the trail gaps filled when 1.6 miles of recreational trails will connect a trail at Allison Avenue and Canal Road to Rentschler Forest.

Butler County remains one of the biggest areas that has the most unfinished bike paths along the corridor, Mennone said. She attributes this to having a plethora of interested parties, but no one entity leading the charge to finish the paths. But Hamilton should be proud of the couple of miles they’ll have added to the trail this year, she continued.

“In urban areas, it can be hugely difficult to get even a little bit of trail done, and we should be proud of the amount of effort Hamilton has put into a piece that falls inside of the watershed,” she said.

Nix added that the corridor was a big factor in New-England-based RowAmerica coming to Hamilton, as well.

“The whole area is on an upswing, and it’s exciting to be a part of that,” she said.

Hamilton is one of several stakeholders in Ohio’s Great Corridor Association, and was represented at the annual River Summit held Friday at the University of Dayton’s River Campus, where regional stakeholders shared experiences and research related to riverfront development up and down the Great Miami River Corridor.