© 2023 Cincinnati Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Long neglected, the Mill Creek Corridor is getting renewed attention

Nick Swartsell
The recently demolished Early and Daniel silos in Millvale.

Decades ago, the Mill Creek Corridor — a long valley that cuts through the middle of Hamilton County from the Ohio River up into Evendale — was the industrial powerhouse of Southwestern Ohio. After years of disinvestment and neglect, some local leaders are taking steps to bring it back.

The Port, Hamilton County's development agency, has been focusing on vacant and blighted property in the area around Queensgate and Camp Washington in the heart of the corridor with the aim of eventually attracting modern industry there.

There are some challenging, if iconic, remnants of the industry that once was — think the 250-foot tall Early and Daniel grain silos crews imploded last week in Millvale, and the imposing, five-story former Lunkenheimer Valve factory a mile down Beekman Street in South Fairmount.

LISTEN: 'Crosley at the Crossroads,' a new podcast from WVXU

There are dozens and dozens of other sites in the corridor in need of remediation that could be brought back into productive use, Port Vice President of Finance and Industrial Development Todd Castellini says. That plays into the overall goal — bringing good-paying jobs into the surrounding communities. Castellini points out Hamilton County lost 100,000 industrial jobs in the decades after the 1960s — a great deal of them centered in the Mill Creek Corridor.

"It's natural for us to look in this district— Camp Washington, Queensgate," he says. "There was a hotbed of manufacturing back in the day and there is a lot of underutilized real estate."

The Port is marshaling millions in federal and state grants to assess and remediate those sites. The implosion of the silos was one project of many funded by a $17.7 million state grant The Port received for demolition of blighted properties across the county.

The Port got $600,000 in federal block grants from the city toward shoring up Lunkenheimer and $100,000 from the EPA to study what could be done with the site in the future. And most recently, the city and The Port announced $1.2 million more from the EPA to assess environmental remediation at dozens of sites in the Mill Creek Valley.

Castellini says efforts at remediating these properties — many of which have experienced heavy industrial pollution and long years of neglect — are still in the early stages.

RELATED: The Mill Creek is rebounding. Camp Washington residents hope more of their environment follows

They come as other initiatives land in the area around the Mill Creek. The Metropolitan Sewer District completed the massive $100 million Lick Run Greenway project in 2021, daylighting a stream once buried under South Fairmount and creating a park and better stormwater management system in the process. There's an ongoing push for bicycle infrastructure in the community and efforts to redevelop the enormous Crosley Building near the creek in Camp Washington. And in the years ahead, the construction of a replacement for the Western Hills Viaduct will bring more energy to the area.

Of course, there are more than just the ruins of old factories here. There are communities of people who want change — but who are also sometimes nervous about what it could mean for them. Many of those communities are predominantly Black and have struggled with poverty and the legacy of environmental degradation.

It's 'their turn at the plate.' But at what cost?

Longtime North Fairmount resident Darryl Franklin is happy to see sites like the silos come down. But he's also watched houses his neighbors lived in get demolished due to poor conditions and sewage issues, he says, and he's worried about prices increasing in the neighborhood. About half of North Fairmount's residents live in poverty, Census data suggests, and 77% are Black.

"I think our community is in the onset of gentrification," Franklin says. "I've seen it coming for quite a while now. There isn't a day that goes by where a development corporation isn't calling me wanting to buy my house."

Port Senior Vice President Philip Denning, who focuses on residential efforts at the development agency, says those fears are understandable. He says The Port wants to help residents, not displace them.

Denning says that change is coming whether The Port acts or not, pointing out that housing costs have gone up across the county — rents are up as much as 40% since 2020. And he says that while the relative affordability of the Mill Creek Corridor can be good, sometimes it's because the housing is in very poor condition. The key is balancing investment with opportunities for residents.

RELATED: Camp Washington was vibrant before I-75 came through. Can it be that way again?

"There are a lot of people who live there, and they live in a community that has experienced a lot of disinvestment," he says. "It's their turn at the plate to see what they can get for a neighborhood that's vibrant and gives them quality of life."

But dealing with the patchwork of properties that need remediation is complex. Out of town landowners who have let former industrial sites fall into disrepair can be difficult to track down and deal with. The Early and Daniel silos are a good example of this dynamic.

"The silos were declared a public nuisance a few years ago," The Port's Director of Industrial Development Chris Meyer told community members at an information session about the demolition of the silos earlier this month. "We had to go through the city process and get grant funding. The owners are still around, but they're in Texas and Illinois and don't want anything to do with it and so we're left to clean it up."

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.