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The people and neighborhoods of our region have fascinating stories to tell, and WVXU is committed to telling them. Round the Corner is our community storytelling initiative, shining a light on the people, businesses, history, and events that make Greater Cincinnati such a fascinating place to live, work, and raise a family. Stories will air on 91.7 WVXU and 88.5 WMUB, and stream on wvxu.org, the WVXU mobile app, and on your smart speaker.

Citing Ideological Differences, Community Group Breaks Ties With The Port For Now

Jolene Almendarez
CEAI and The Port co-developed projects at 4926 Reading Road in Bond Hill, where the two groups spent roughly $2.4 million renovating a building that's now leased to several businesses.

The Community Economic Advancement Initiative, an organization founded in 2015 to support the African American community in Cincinnati, has loosely broken ties with The Port over ideological differences. CEAI claims the development group may inadvertently gentrify neighborhoods.

CEAI Board Secretary Gene Ellington said his organization and The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority have "sort of divergent concerns and issues," and the relationship between the two organizations has been challenged over the years.

"When you look at some of the areas that they build houses, it kind of feels like gentrification," he said. "I'm not saying that that's their intent, but it's certainly the outcome. When you start building $300,000 houses in a depressed neighborhood, what that tends to do is gentrify the community. And so, the indigenous people who live in that community could never afford to buy a house that has been either built or renovated by The Port Authority."

The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority declined an interview by press time. But, Laura Brunner, president and CEO of The Port, said in an attributed statement, "We believe gentrification is an over-used word. The ideal is for all neighborhoods to be 'healthy,' and that means there is a place for everyone, including legacy residents … Our goal at The Port is to invest to bring vitality back to these neighborhoods. Where homes are more than 3,000-square feet, the prices are naturally higher than smaller homes. The Port is deeply committed to increasing the number of homes across a wide range of prices."

The organization also said "healthy neighborhoods" have lower rates of crime, better performing schools and more active business districts.

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Currently, CEAI and Port are working on two major projects together. Ellington says the pivot away from The Port means they'll continue working with the group for current projects, but that the organization doesn't plan on working with The Port in the future. But if the right project comes along, CEAI might reconcile.

"If it's the right kind of deal, we will consider it, but it has to be our deal, not The Port's deal," Ellington said.

Meanwhile, The Port says the relationship with CEAI remains intact.

The organization said in a statement, "CEAI has increased its capacity by now engaging a developer as a consultant, so they are capable of investing independently of The Port.  We wish them continued success and we look forward to our continued collaboration with them."

The Projects 

The first of the co-developed projects is at 4926 Reading Road in Bond Hill, where the two groups spent roughly $2.4 million renovating a building that's now leased to several businesses. That includes the Davis Cookie Collection, Gi'Zelle's Head 2 Toe clothing store, and a soon-to-open seafood restaurant.

"And all of the businesses there are African American-owned, female businesses," Ellington said. "And so we're very excited about that." 

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Credit Jolene Almendarez / WVXU
The contaminated site of a former gas station at Section and Reading roads can be remediated soon thanks to a $150,000 grant from the state of Ohio.


The other is at the corner of Section and Reading roads where a gas station used to be located. The goal is to make the site a mixed-use facility with shops on the first floor and housing above.

But the soil at the site is contaminated, possibly due to underground storage tanks.

"That was part of the challenge, because of the environmental concerns, that can only be a single use of that property. And we didn't think that was a good investment," he said.

A recent $150,000 grant from the state of Ohio makes remediating the property possible. The process hasn't started yet, and he estimates it should take about six months to complete once it's underway.

CEAI Aims To Be Community-Driven Version Of 3CDC

CEAI was started in 2015 with several million dollars of seed money from the city of Cincinnati.

Pastor Damon Lynch III, of New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn, says he founded CEAI in an effort to uplift the Black community after seeing a lack of Black-owned businesses in the area.

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"How can we not just be the consumers and build wealth for every other group that comes into the community — whether it's developers, or business owners? And we're just the cash cow," he said, confirming the tentative split with The Port.

Ellington says the strain with The Port is rooted in what he says are the divergent goals of the organizations.

"We organize around issues of economic parity, economic empowerment, to be able to advance those causes in the African American community," he said about CEAI.

For instance, CEAI also recently purchased a grocery store in Bond Hill, and it's not just about business.

"We will again lease out space (to) other food service vendors. And we will be able to have fresh fruits and vegetables, and some other staples in the grocery store as well. As you know, Bond Hill, Roselawn is a food desert. And we'll be able to address that concern."

There's also a patio area where Ellington says he envisions local musicians playing and people coming to just hang out at a safe place in the neighborhood.

"We want it to be a destination," he says.

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CEAI is also in the process of conducting a survey to get input from the community about the kinds of things people want to see in the area. That's different from how some development companies do business.

"People come in and then sort of tell the community what they need," he says. "We want to be able to get that feedback from the community to determine what kinds of things they will support, what kinds of things they believe they need in the community." 

round the corner
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Round the Corner is our community storytelling initiative, shining the light on the fascinating people, businesses, history and events that make Greater Cincinnati such a fascinating place to live, work and raise a family. Read more stories here.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.