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West End homeowners brace for change as development north of TQL stadium moves forward

Earl Brown stands in his back yard in the West End. His house is in the footprint of a planned development district just north of TQL Stadium.
Nick Swartsell
Earl Brown stands in his backyard in the West End. His house is in the footprint of a planned development district just north of TQL Stadium.

Earl Brown was born on Liberty Street in the West End before the highway came through. He moved away, then moved back. Over the decades, he's seen plenty of changes come to the neighborhood. Now, that change is coming to his doorstep.

Brown's property is one of the last two occupied buildings on Bauer Avenue, just north of FC Cincinnati's TQL Stadium. It's also squarely in the footprint of a new $300 million mixed-use development the team announced last month.

When that development starts, Brown and his neighbors will face a pivotal moment in which they will either move or stay put as the neighborhood around them changes.

Brown has owned the multi-unit building since 1983. He lives on the upper floors and rents the lower floor out to long-time residents.

He did much of the renovation work himself. It's a point of pride.

"What I decided to do, I was going to do it on my own," he says as he stands in a living room filled with art and books. "No banks. I'm going to do this on my own, and that's what I've done here as a West End resident."

The stately brick home, built in 1881, is filled with hundreds of little bits of neighborhood history — ads from West End theaters dating to the 1940s; a flyer for a poetry reading at the house from the 1980s; posters for political events from the 1990s.

The coming stadium district promises a lot of new amenities, as FC Cincinnati co-CEO Jeff Berding described earlier this month at a news conference marking the start of demolition of old buildings in its footprint.

From the archives:FC Cincinnati unveils stadium design, saying it will 'reclaim vigor and glory' in the West End

"This new district will include a hotel created by Josh Heuser's Agar, which has brought Cincinnati Ghost Baby, the Transept and BLINK," he said. "The district will have apartments, will have some office space, retail, restaurants and a privately owned green space, a community space."

Opinions about the development are mixed in the neighborhood. Brown is philosophical, saying change is just part of life in the West End. He'd like to see the neighborhood's history commemorated better and would really like the city to find a way to offer tax abatements to long-term homeowners like him. But he doesn't think it's possible to avoid things like the development happening around him.

"It was inevitable that the West End was going to be redeveloped, like it or not," he says. "Makes no difference if it's Chicago, Omaha, Kansas City, Tucson — places I've lived. That's what's going to happen."

'It's not going to be great for us'

But not everyone is so resigned. Nikki Ramey owns the building next to Brown's, a handsome brick three-family built in 1880. She's lived there for 15 years.

"I already know how it's going to change when they put in that $300 million hotel," she says. "I already know it's probably not going to be for the benefit of the people who live here. It's not going to be that great for us."

Ramey's worried about crowds, construction noise and changes that have already happened. She says the work shakes her house. She mentions neighbors who have had to move on nearby Wade Street and Central Avenue, and buildings the team purchased and demolished previously — including a historic church.

"Now that church — Revelation Baptist Church — that was a historic church," she says. "They tore it down. Why would you tear down a historic church? That's not just Black history. That's white history, too. Black people weren't the first people down here. You tore down Jewish history."

She's not the only one who's unhappy with the coming development. Operators of Liberty Used Tires, just behind Brown and Ramey's properties on Liberty Street, say they'll close up soon after six years in business. The building owners are preparing to sell the property.

LISTEN: How will FC Cincinnati's new stadium impact the West End?

"It's like stabbing me in the heart," Liberty Used Tires owner Ahmad Hmoud says. "I've been building this business. We have our regular customers. And all of a sudden, I'm going to be losing all of that."

It's especially hard, Hmoud says, because his current shop is centrally located and the business hasn't been given a lot of time to move.

"Moving to a different location — it's going to be so difficult. It's going to be hard to get back to this level we're at here."

FC Cincinnati Chief Develpoment Officer Chad Munitz said in a statement that plans for the district have been in the works for a long time and that the team is committed to equitable growth in the neighborhood.

"For properties that FC Cincinnati does not control that are located within this area of future development, it will be up to each property owner to decide if they want to sell their property," the statement reads. "Related to the used tire store, the owner of the property on Liberty Street north of the stadium approached FC Cincinnati to sell his real estate. The owner has had the property listed for sale since last November."

Munitz said it's up to the owner of the tire store property to resolve the issue with Hmoud and that the team won't close on the property until that happens.

Back on Bauer Avenue, Brown isn't sure if he'll sell his property or not. He says he has family to think about.

"Let me put it in this context," he says. "I have five grandchildren. One is graduating from high school this year. There are four more to go. If you can talk to me about that, we can talk. So hopefully that can give you some thought about the money."

Ramey, on the other hand, is more intent on staying.

"I don't want to move," she says. "I have no intention of moving, to be truly honest about it. I mean, why would I move? So they can have what I got? I'm not doing that."

Nick has reported from a nuclear waste facility in the deserts of New Mexico, the White House press pool, a canoe on the Mill Creek, and even his desk one time.