Changes already under way in Avondale as Children’s Hospital vote nears – Cincinnati.com
There looks to be no turning back from the groundwork done to prepare for the 10-story expansion of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center into the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Avondale. Houses are sold and boarded up. Construction and property-management offices are open.
Mark Curnutte/The Enquirer
Walk the streets of Avondale near Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and irreversible changes are well under way.
There’s no turning back on the hospital’s eight-story, $550 million expansion, especially after Wednesday.
As expected, City Council voted 6-3 to approve required zoning changes for the project, a vote delayed a week by multiple Council members’ absences.
Away from political maneuvering, dozens of houses now sit empty and boarded on the streets just north of Children’s, interspersed with empty lots where buildings have already been torn down.
Two houses on the north side of Erkenbrecher Avenue are construction offices. A third former residence a block away on Hearne Avenue is the office of a local firm hired by Cincinnati Children’s as its on-site property manager. The hospital has paid market-rate prices or slightly better to buy houses from homeowners in the area, some residents say.
Children’s has rented apartments in large houses it now owns to employee families. One man, an immigrant from India whose wife is a cancer researcher, said his family will move by the end of September from Hearne Avenue to another home in the immediate area.
Before Council’s vote, Avondale Community Council President Patricia Milton said the hospital used African-American real estate agents to induce homeowners to sell and called the practice “back-door eminent domain.”
Young, an Avondale native and retired Cincinnati Police officer who voted no Wednesday, said he is concerned about the loss of population and increased traffic in the community.
Daytime on-street parking is already an issue, the result of too few garage spaces for Children’s15,000 employees. It currently chokes Hearne, Wilson and parts of Northern avenues but will be alleviated by the expansion of an existing garage on the other side of Burnet Avenue, say hospital officials.
Plans call for the expansion to spill across Erkenbrecher into Avondale and transform a four-acre swath of historic homes into a high-tech pediatric care center.
Known as the Avenue District, the eight square-block area pinched between Cincinnati Children’s to the north and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden to the west once had among the highest concentrations of home ownership in the city’s black community.
The inevitability of the expansion could be felt in the neighborhood adjacent to the hospital this week.
Michael Stewart, 65, moved to his home on Northern Avenue 61 years ago, wife Cheryl Stewart said. He and his family had been displaced from their home on Mound Street in the West End by Interstate 75 construction. Now, he is in the path of progress again.
The Hamilton County auditor’s website lists the total market value of the home at $75,000. Cheryl Stewart said an African-American real estate agent has offered them $125,000.
“We know eventually it’s all going to go,” she said while sitting on her front porch.
Her son and two grandsons live on the first floor of the house, which has 3,300 square feet of living space.
“I am concerned about the dust and air quality once all of this starts,” Stewart said. “I’m at the point where they can have it. My husband has a figure in his head. If they give it to him, he’s gone.”
Next door, four generations of John Davis’ family live. Davis, 84, renovated the home’s inside and has no plans to sell, said his grandson, Archie Dale Davis, 33. He said he is a community organizer and washes cars.
“It’s all I know, for all of my 33 years,” Archie Davis said while walking his dog, Pepper, a Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix.
“It’s been hard, a little. We’ve had Children’s and Cincinnati Zoo people coming at us for two years.”
Rumor and perception intersect with reality among remaining residents.
Across the street, at 331-335 Northern, a large, three-story apartment building that can accommodate 39 units, is boarded up. Neighbors say nearby Ronald McDonald House is considering rehabbing the building for expansion. It provides accommodations for families of children receiving treatment at the hospital.
“We know as they grow, we grow,” said Ronald McDonald House spokeswoman Kristen Klein. “We’re exploring opportunities to grow to meet demand.”
Yet, she said, that property is not one being considered.