The neighborhood of Pendleton is not what it once was, and if the newly minted Horseshoe Casino has anything to do with it, nor what it will be in the next few years.
Over the past couple of years, most urban Cincinnati news headlines have been dominated by one thing: the glorious, bubbling revitalization of Over-the-Rhine.
Deserving of accolades, no doubt, but Pendleton, OTR’s little sister, has always had its own artsy swagger — often referred to as the “Pendleton Arts District” of Over-the-Rhine, although it’s technically its own neighborhood. Still, it’s stayed mostly out of the limelight, and it’s taken the opening of the Horseshoe Casino to propel it there.
“The news outlets actually say ‘Pendleton’ now instead of ‘Over-the-Rhine,’ which is good,” chuckles David White, Pendleton Neighborhood Council president. “I didn’t feel like we had our own identity to the greater public before the casino project.”
Now, the cranes and construction are gone from the visage of the $400 million, 400,000-square-foot Horseshoe Casino, which stretches down several blocks of Reading Road. With 1,700 employees and 6 million visitors estimated each year, it’s guaranteed the casino will impact the neighborhoods that encase it; in Pendleton, some disparate change — and some not —has already begun.
Already, the city of Cincinnati dedicated about $6 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for infrastructural improvements in Pendleton, which so far has buried unsightly overhead wires, widened and replaced deteriorating sidewalks and added new streetlights and freshly planted trees.
From August through November 2012, Pendleton was also selected as a target of the city’s Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP), a 90-day collaborative effort between neighborhood residents, city departments and community organizations focused on beautifying neighborhood assets and promoting community development.
Ethel Cogen, senior community development analyst in the city’s department of community development, says Pendleton’s selection had nothing to do with the new casino.
Rather, choosing recipients is a statistically driven process (two neighborhoods are selected per year) that uses data based on crime and blight to assess quality of life. Pendleton was earmarked, she explains, because it was on “the upswing” — the community was already working to take steps to improve, and neighborhood stakeholders demonstrated interest and motivation in making sustainable growth, which, as part of the NEP, included graffiti removal, litter cleanup, building code assessments and undercover drug investigations.
Prior to last year’s NEP, Keep Cincinnati Beautiful (KCB) gave Pendleton a score of 2.27 on the Blight Index, a comprehensive score ranking 1 to 4 (1 being no blight, 4 being extremely blighted). Pendleton’s Post-Blight score lowered 22 percent to 1.39 after the project was completed; QCB is expected to conduct one more follow-up assessment in August.
What’s happening in Pendleton seems to be working: According to statistics obtained from the Cincinnati Police Department, crime in Pendleton declined 33.5 percent from 2011 to 2012.
Also in the works for the neighborhood is the Pendleton Neighborhood Public Art Project, a $215,000 project powered by ArtWorks and TIF money that will commission an artist to create and install several permanent site-specific sculptural public works.
According to White, the request for proposals (RFPs) garnered 76 submittals from across the world, and it’s down to five semi-finalists; the winner will be announced next week. Although none of the semi-finalists are from Cincinnati, the winner will be required to work with local artisans and community stakeholders so the art emanates what surrounds it.
Bob Maley, chief operating officer with the Model Group, a Cincinnati-area property developer, recognized Pendleton’s potential before the casino was even a tangible thing; Model purchased a two-block string of homes on Broadway, beginning in 2007. “Unlike other parts of OTR, even, it’s a very residential and quiet little nook. It’s a pretty defined area — it’s got a very defined sense of place.”
Model is planning to convert the buildings into more than 80 apartments affordable to casino workers, what Maley describes as an “untouched opportunity.”
Still unresolved are plans to revive the former School for Creative and Performing Arts building, also in Pendleton. Original plans were for apartments, but the current owner of the property, Core Redevelopment, could convert the building to a hotel with apartments, restaurants and entertainment. The adjacent greenspace, which functions as Pendleton’s community park, is also a hotly contended component of the renovation plans, which White describes as an asset to the neighborhood.
The casino itself also appears invested so far in establishing relationships in the surrounding community; it recently announced a community partnership in which casino customers can redeem rewards for free or discounted meals at a number of popular Cincinnati restaurants, including Nicola’s in Pendleton.
The greatest worry Pendleton stakeholders are expressing about the new casino is an influx of foot and car traffic, which seems mitigated by the growth. White even considers it somewhat of a positive.
“I’ll probably never, ever gamble a dollar [at the casino], but just seeing people walking on Reading Road was really impressive. Like pedestrians. We’d never see that before, unless someone was waiting for the bus,” he says.
The city has watched OTR go through its own renaissance for the last several years; perhaps we’ll see Pendleton do the same. Maley banks much of the area’s future success on its relationship with the casino.
“The casino is there, it’s going to do well, it’s going to be fine on its own whether or not the neighborhoods around it improve,” he says. “I think the most important thing is this is an opportunity to improve the areas around the casino and use it as positive leverage to help Pendleton.” ©