Redevelopment Wrecks: Cincinnati

Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati City leaders dream of a glitzy new downtown area, but time and again they bungle planned redevelopment projects, leaving a string of relocations, condemnations and wasted funds in their wake.  In 1998, retail giant Nordstrom wanted to open a new department store in downtown Cincinnati.  However, there was a problem with the location Nordstrom wanted—Walgreens pharmacy already occupied the building space.  To accommodate Nordstrom, the City worked together with developer Eagle Properties, and Walgreens agreed to move to another location one block away—the exact location where CVS (Walgreens’ primary regional competitor) already had a store and had no interest in moving.  Not surprisingly, CVS sued to stop the condemnation for its competitor’s benefit and eventually prevailed in a settlement with the City.  The terms of the settlement, however, required the City to condemn a number of other small businesses operating on four separate parcels across the street from CVS so that the City could in turn give that property to Walgreens.

Included among the displaced businesses was Kathman’s Shoe Repair, which was forced by the City to close its doors after being in business for 95 years.  Cincinnati’s initial agreement with Eagle Properties (Nordstrom’s developer), in which the City had agreed to lend the developer $12 million, included a provision that required the City to leave vacant the very parcel that it had just handed to Walgreens, so that Eagle Properties could attract additional “upscale” retail to the corner adjacent to the new Nordstrom.  The City’s failure to honor this provision would scuttle the entire Nordstrom deal.  Apparently nobody acting on behalf of the City had even bothered to read the agreement or bring up this fact to other City authorities.[1]  It looked like the City would again have to shuffle the various pieces around to accommodate Eagle Properties.

But then something peculiar happened.  The Nordstrom did not get built as planned, and the vacant lot where Walgreens had originally stood began to languish and deteriorate. The site eventually took the form of an unsightly hole in the ground.  After two years, millions of dollars paid to the developers and various property owners, as well as the destruction of small family businesses, Nordstrom announced in November 2000 that it was pulling out of the Cincinnati deal because of its declining profits.[2]  The City eventually paved over the erstwhile Nordstrom site, so that the tract could at the very least operate as a City-owned parking lot until a new retailer would come along with another deal for this “can do” city.[3]  Since 2001, the site has remained a surface parking lot.  The City has not found a developer interested in the property.[4]

[1] Robert Anglen, “Walgreens May Snag Nordstrom Deal; Move the Drug Store or Lose Retailer, Loan Board Says,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, June 24, 2000.

[2] Lisa Biank Fasig and Robert Anglen, “Nordstrom Won’t Build Downtown After All,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, Nov. 23, 2000.

[3] Robert Anglen, “Nordstrom Site to Become Parking Lot,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, Nov. 24, 2000.

[4] Ken Alltucker, “Consultant’s Priority: Curing Downtown’s Heart,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 15, 2003, at 1D; “Downtown Cincinnati,”, available at (June 16, 2006); Fifth & Race, L.P.  v. W. & S. Life Ins. Co., 2006 Ohio App. Lexis 86 (Ct. App., Jan. 13, 2006).