The Reinvention of Hamilton

Sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees and it takes the perspective of an outsider to affirm the good things that are going on in our city. Here’s an article from the January 2015 newsletter of KMK Consulting, a Cincinnati firm that specializes in economic development issues, that highlights the on-going success of Hamilton’s revitalization.

How a Small Midwestern City is Reinventing Itself

The Impact of Leadership and One Amazing City Manager

by James J. McGraw, Jr.

Hamilton, Ohio is a small 223 year old blue collar city about 40 minutes northwest of Cincinnati undergoing a major renaissance. The model for this reinvention is different than what we at KMK Consulting normally experience. We have preached private sector leadership with great success in over 100 cities for three decades.

But Hamilton, Ohio, may be the best example of public sector leadership that we have seen. And it is in the title of City Manager. His name is Joshua Smith. We have been honored to work with him, particularly in helping him build his city’s catalytic redevelopment corporation called CORE (Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts), a $6.2 Million public/private redevelopment non-profit funded by the Hamilton Community Foundation, the City, First Financial Bank and US Bank. Joshua Smith is an amazing man. He’s aggressive, relentless, creative and tireless. In fact, he is the driving force saving Hamilton, Ohio. With leadership support from John Guidugli, CEO of the Community Foundation, Claude Davis, CEO of First Financial Bank, Mahendra Vora, CEO of the Vora Tech Park and Mike Dingeldein, Executive Director of CORE, the reinvention of this old town is a remarkable success story.

More than $130 Million has been invested by the public and private sectors in this City just since 2010. Take a look at some of the deals and the pipeline as assembled by Mike Boyer of Cincy Magazine.

  • Art Space Hamilton – $10 Million mixed-use residential project
    in the former H. Strauss Building on High Street, opens this
    coming spring with 42 artist loft apartments and ground floor commercial space.
  • Mercantile Lofts – 139 year old building once facing condemnation, underwent a $8.6 Million renovation two years ago creating street level commercial space and 29 market grade apartments that are fully leased with a waiting list.
  • Community First Solutions – Non-profit, providing health and wellness services and one of the City’s largest employers is renovating the six story former Ringel’s Furniture Store on South Third Street as its new corporate office and training center.
  • ThyssenKrup Bilstein, a maker of automotive shocks, announced in July its third expansion in recent years – a $52 Million project that will add 200 jobs.
  • Influx – A new P&G subsidiary to create more energy efficient plastic containers, announced last year it was investing $50 Million in the former Hamilton Fixture Plant creating 220 jobs. Its decade old business incubator rebranded itself as The Mill in July – recalling the City’s industrial past – and refocused its mission on emerging markets such as water technology, advanced manufacturing, and information technology.
  • The City has launched its 17 strong neighborhoods initiative to focus these areas on projects important to them.
  • The City has demolished more than 130 blighted buildings supported by state funds and Butler County’s Land Bank Program.
  • The CORE Fund is just one tool in the City’s redevelopment tool kit. It has hit the ground running committing more than $4 Million to buy four vacant downtown buildings including the former Elder-Beerman Department Store on High Street and preparing them for redevelopment. Now that Hamilton’s resurgence is gaining such good traction, developers are looking at projects in the City without the need of assistance from the CORE Fund, which is exactly the idea.

The City is taking critical advantage of its major differentiator asset which is its own municipal electric system. The City will begin receiving low cost hydro from a facility at the Meldahl Dam on the Ohio River through a partnership with American Municipal Power, a $500 Million project. Nearly three-quarters of Hamilton’s electricity will come from renewable sources when the plant begins operation this spring. The City is also focusing on clean and alternative energy in other ways and is building the area’s first public compressed natural gas fueling station offering lower cost fuel for City vehicles and the public. The sea change starting all of this was a new group of City Council Members several years ago along with the leadership of John Guidugli from the Community Foundation. Together they made a brilliant move in hiring Joshua Smith. This is simply a great story about a small older city coming back to life in a big way, leveraging both public and private leadership to make a difference and to realize a set of aspirations that previously most folks in that community thought were impossible. Working collaboratively has made a difference for this City. Along with the City Manager’s leadership, the Chamber, the Foundation and other businesses, everybody is moving in the same direction. They have a terrific City Council and a very effective and creative leader in Joshua Smith taking advantage of every opportunity and creating new ones on a daily basis.

Time spent on taking a close look at the progress of Hamilton, Ohio
and how it is happening is well worth the effort by leaders and economic development organizations from across the country.

For more information contact Jim McGraw at 513.639.3968 or jmcgraw@kmklaw.com

Photo by Andy Roehl, from the City's Facebook page.

5 thoughts on “The Reinvention of Hamilton”

  1. So, I guess the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, built on the river 22 years ago and leading Hamilton’s growth in the arts, gets left out of the discussion of Hamilton re-inventing itself? We’ve raised and spent $31 million in Hamilton, created jobs, have an annual economic impact downtown of over $7 million annually, and have improved the community educationally, economically, socially, and culturally year in and year out. We brought the idea of Artspace to Hamilton 12 years ago. We helped create the Riverfront Arts District. We played a role in creating the Riversedge Park and Amphitheater. We hatched and cultivated the Butler Tech School of the Arts its first 9 years at the Fitton Center. And now we’re completing our second expansion since 2003 totaling a capital investment of $10 million in downtown Hamilton. But then, we are just the arts…

  2. Leadership Cincinnati held its annual all-day session on economic development (Leading for Economic Vibrancy) in Hamilton last Thursday. Johnna Reeder of REDI, Laura Brunner (Port Authority) and Claude Davis (First Financial Bank) all spoke with the 54 members of Class 38. We did a walking tour of the new developments in the downtown area (it was 6 above zero!) and heard from the leaders of the incubator, Hamilton Mill. The entire afternoon was working with Joshua (a graduate of LC’s Class 36) on developing a “message track” for moving Hamilton to the next stage.

    Hamilton is one of the great local stories of economic revival, sound government leadership and regional collaboration. I applaud the broad based energy that is apparent (including what has been happening at the Fitton Center), the work of the elected officials, the City Manager and his amazing team. We look forward to bringing future Leadership Cincinnati classes to Hamilton.

  3. Very positive projects transforming Hamilton. I’d like to suggest that city work with Amtrak to reinstate the Chicago-Washington-NYC “Cardinal” stop what was abolished about ten years ago. The train already runs through Hamilton, not at convenient times, but it would connect Hamilton with more than 400 other cities and towns across the country.

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