Cincinnati's Uptown Consortium Exposed

Cincinnati has witnessed some of the most outrageous examples of eminent domain abuse seen anywhere in the nation. It took an Ohio Supreme Court decision to finally stop this abuse in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood, but unfortunately, that’s not the only example in the area. Cincinnati developers sought to take the homes and businesses of Clifton Heights area residents who refused to give in to the City’s repeated threats to take over private property in order to benefit big business.

The redevelopment project known as “The Uptown Consortium,” led by a network of CEOs and chummy board members of the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center, and the Cincinnati Zoo, bulldozed parts of this quaint college neighborhood and seeks to replace it with retail shops, upscale condos, a hotel, various entertainment venues and a parking garage.

Clifton Heights is a bustling middle-class community with many college students, young families, and faculty. Residents enjoy family-owned bookstores and coffee shops, churches and parks, as well as a busy community center and several small theaters.[1]

To accomplish their goals, the Uptown Consortium inaccurately claimed that the entire area was “blighted,” citing population decline and supposedly unhealthy neighborhoods.

Bill Wood, owner of the restaurant “In The Wood,” was shocked to discover his property was being called “blighted.” Wood’s family restaurant had all-American fare, such as burgers and fries, where a family could eat for under $10 a person.[2] And just next door another American favorite was being served at “Acropolis Chili,” owned by Joe Kennedy.

“I wasn’t a blight for 17 years while I was paying my taxes,” Kennedy said. “The blight is what the city’s creating up here.”[3]

Both Wood and Kennedy refused to give up their generations–owned family businesses as the City filed eminent domain lawsuits to force them to move off properties that were rightfully theirs.

The Clifton Heights Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation headed the Uptown Consortium Project. The Corporation wreaked havoc upon Clifton Heights, while at the same time using public subsidies and tax credits. Reports show that it used a $33 million UC credit line, as well as a $52 million allocation of tax credits in order to fund the project.[4]

What the Corporation did not anticipate, however, was that Wood, Kennedy and another company that owned two fast food restaurants on the same street, would refuse to sell out their businesses only to make way for other businesses—and someone else’s private profit.

The Corporation only offered the business owners a relocation fee if they left. But according to Kennedy, the $20,000 offer was hardly substantial to justify starting anew the business he already owned in the first place and had worked hard to create nearly 20 years ago.[5]

The business owners refused to cave in and continued to serve college students and families hamburgers, hot dogs and chili. The Corporation became anxious and decided to use the tool of desperation: eminent domain. The City declared the area as “blighted,” citing a “population decline” and the area’s low-income status.[6]

What’s worse, the CEOs of the Corporation, the University of Cincinnati (partial financier of the project) and various city officials were all real estate speculators who stood to benefit personally from the possible development of the area, according to Kennedy and his attorney.[7]

Wood and Kennedy, in true American fashion, refused to sit back and let their true Constitutional rights be destroyed. They brought suit against the City along with their attorney, who noted that the Corporation was, “removing one business for the benefit of another business. My clients are very successful where they are. They invested in the neighborhood and only want to be left alone.” [8]

The lawsuit helped to expose the projects’ roundabout financing strategy and personal agendas. The $100 million project was stopped dead in its tracks when the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center would not agree to the terms of the loan to the developers, thus compelling the city to freeze the rest of the funds.

Like many cases before, this example shows that the abuse of government power in eminent domain cases only leads to threatening hardworking citizens and their lawful right to own properties. If left up to genuine negotiation rather than government force, most of these situations would have a way of working themselves out with a little creativity and business savvy.

The halting of the Uptown Consortium Project is nothing new to the world of eminent domain battles. This is just one in a long list of failures in which the speculative developer went running to the government rather than leaving decisions to the people and to the private sector.

[1] Clifton Heights Community Homepage:


[3] Dan Monk, “Another eminent domain fight gets ugly,” Cincinnati Business Courier, May 21, 2004.

[4] Dan Monk, “Huge UC project might be dead,” Cincinnati Business Courier, July 7, 2006.

[5] Monk, “Another eminent domain fight gets ugly.” Cincinnati Business Courier, May 21, 2004.

[6] Ibid..


[8] Ibid.