Beechmont Avenue is perhaps Cincinnati’s quintessential suburban commercial corridor. It has begun to age and lose population after decades of spirited growth.
The length of Beechmont Avenue from its western border with the City of Cincinnati through to Five Mile Road reflects the Township’s early historic development and remains a strong area.
It is imperative for the Township to develop strategic approaches to attract new residents and retain others considering leaving the community.
Strategizing for redevelopment is not a matter of correcting past “mistakes” but rather, confronting and adapting to the evolving suburban environment.
The automobile is the defining element in this study area. Future redevelopment will be largely determined by the extent to which the automobile’s dominance is reduced.
Beechmont’s relatively soft real estate market is attracting sub-standard users seeking inexpensive rent rather than a strong demographic.
Redevelopment along Beechmont will require a decade-long process involving site assembly, enabling public improvements, and broad research.
The Anderson Towne Center is the focal point of the Township’s commercial community. Its strong retail/service base, excellent roadway access, central location, and significant adaptability to the principles of ‘new urbanism’ earn it the highest priority for additional development.
The Eastgate Mall has grown to regional status as a retail/service area.
The Anderson Ways secondary roadway system is a sound concept, as it provides connectivity between properties.
There are significant challenges in adapting the principles of mixed-use projects to suburban environments.
Collaboration between local government and the commercial community can be the major driving force in matters regarding sign reform.
The transformation of rural, bucolic hamlets and agricultural acreage on the outskirts of metropolitan areas across the United States has had a profound effect on our national culture. The suburbs were originally intended to satisfy the pent up housing demands of the post WWII America. The results transformed the national landscape, and redefined how the majority of Americans live in residential environments, as well as how they shop, recreate, and socialize.
The automobile has and continues to be the fundamental force in developing the suburban lifestyle, re-defining the logistics of virtually every aspect of daily life.
Anderson Township has engaged the service of Hamilton County Development Company (HCDC) to continue an ongoing inquiry into the Beechmont Avenue commercial corridor, exploring how that evolutionary product can be adapted to contemporary economic, social, and environmental redevelopment.
Beechmont Avenue reflects a clear chronicle of suburban commercial development. The corridor has hosted several generations of retail and service businesses, a mall, and office development. Some stretches of Beechmont are pristine, while others appear to have suffered and become less attractive over time.
Beechmont’s past dominance has been eroded by many factors. The most significant development has been to the east in neighboring Clermont County, where the Eastgate area has grown from a covered mall built in the mid-1970’s into a regional retail destination.
Over the past two decades, rapid development, paradigm shifts in the retail/service sector, and periodic economic setbacks have produced a commercial property surplus in the metropolitan Cincinnati market. Many of these properties reside within Anderson Township’s portion of the Beechmont corridor.
An incompatibility has emerged between the area’s resident demographics and newer businesses that have migrated to the corridor. Many have moved to Beechmont for the affordability of its surplus properties and the corridor’s optimal location. As a result, there appears to an increasing number of businesses somewhat at odds with their surroundings.
Past inquiries reflected both a sense of community interest and ire over the conditions along Beechmont. The consensus among public officials, residents, and some developers was that it would take decades to “undo the errors of past” decisions.
Beechmont Avenue’s commercial corridor provides a clear example of the historic process that drove suburban development for nearly six decades. That paradigm is now shifting. Both businesses and their customers are expressing dissatisfaction with the current physical and logistical character of suburban commercial environments. Many consider the current conditions to be the result of development “errors”. An alternative view regards these “errors” as simply stages in the corridor’s evolutionary development. Accordingly, redevelopment strategies will adjust to these perceptual changes. Change will not be immediate. The community should plan to engage in this redevelopment over a period of decades. Policies and accompanying strategies will require flexibility. Though development is not as ephemeral as digital technology, those engaged in development are becoming quicker to respond to subtle changes than in the past.
The 2005 Beechmont Corridor Vision Plan referred to the area as “one of the most unsightly retail corridors in the Greater Cincinnati Region.” Though this sounds like a harsh and hyperbolic indictment, it warrants much reflection and a multi-faceted strategic response.
Residents and visitors attribute Beechmont’s unattractiveness to its sheer length and real estate volume. Others cite heavy traffic, garish signage, and navigational difficulties.
Though many express dissatisfaction, anxiety, and perhaps even anger at the physical conditions in the Beechmont Corridor, few would argue that this commercial area is not essential to the economic health and appeal of the overall Anderson community.
Most communities want an attractive commercial corridor. Both residents and visitors expect a direct reflection of the area’s demographic identity. Appearance alone, however, is no guarantee of the corridor’s physical and economic sustainability.
No one can reasonably discount the automobile’s historic place at the cornerstone of suburban culture. It has virtually defined the nature and style of contemporary commercial development. Despite the trend toward New Urbanism and the undeniable impact of the digital commerce, most township residents continue to find themselves deeply rooted in the auto-centric suburban paradigm. Diminishing its dominance is a formidable challenge.
After more than two generations of an auto-centric culture, planners, public officials, residents, and many businesses are looking for ways to “de-construct” this relationship. There is a movement afoot for a return to a slower, more intimate social, commercial, and cultural environment. This goal is gaining in popularity, driven in large part by the increasing influence of urban-oriented principles. The crucial question in this inquiry is how much of this shift is adaptable across the suburban landscape.
Suburban housing development has relied on the automobile for all but a handful of tasks that can be accomplished as a pedestrian within the confines of a residential subdivision. It seems as if virtually all other activities generally require the automobile.
Automobile-related products and services rival fast food restaurants’ ubiquitous presence within Beechmont’s commercial landscape. While new urbanism may be more readily adaptable to some sections of the Beechmont corridor, other sections are likely to remain in a classic suburban commercial mode where brands are prominently displayed through large, eye-catching graphics to attract motorists. A metaphoric visual “cacophony” prevails in these areas, as businesses compete for consumers’ attention. Prior exercises have produced multiple, strategic approaches to mitigating this situation. There have been and will continue to be opportunities for additional improvement. Merchandisers have become increasingly more sensitive to how they display their brands. Collaborative efforts between merchants and the communities can yield surprising results.
HCDC addresses and examines the seeming disparity between Anderson Township’s robust demographics, high quality housing stock, excellent linkages with major roadways, and the market image projected by the commercial corridor.
The Township’s concern and occasional frustration with this corridor are not unique. Older suburban communities are intensely involved in refining their core strengths and in a sense, reinventing themselves. Business and physical development paradigms are shifting rapidly. Anderson is similarly challenged by these pressures.
Anderson Township is one of twelve townships within Hamilton County, Ohio. Located in the southeastern part of the county and about 20 minutes from Downtown Cincinnati, the Township encompasses an area of 31.2 square miles. It is bounded by the Little Miami and Ohio Rivers, in an area dominated by a rolling, wooded natural setting.
As one of the most heavily populated townships in the State of Ohio, Anderson has the fourth highest population total of Hamilton County’s 49 political jurisdictions.
The Physical Corridor
In less than a century when it was a dirt road, Beechmont Avenue has been transformed into a residential and commercial corridor of approximately 4 miles, running from the City of Cincinnati line in Mt Washington to the I-275 interchange at Nine Mile Road.
As recently as the middle of the 20th century, Beechmont Avenue (State Route 125) was a two lane road passing through rural outposts such as Fruit Hill (near Salem Road), Forestville (near Forest Road), and Cherry Grove (near Eight Mile Road. Significant residential growth came to the Township shortly after World War II, as much of the area was agricultural and undeveloped compared to other more urbanized areas in the Mill Creek Valley. The completion of the Beechmont Levee, and the development of a series of high connected roadways, specifically I-275 and I-471, made employment in Downtown Cincinnati and other areas more accessible to Township residents.
The Township has managed to preserve a good measure of its pristine greenery and bucolic settings, while witnessing significant population and commercial growth. Much of this activity has followed Beechmont Avenue, the community’s major thoroughfare that connects much of southern Ohio to Columbia Parkway (U.S. 50) and Downtown Cincinnati. The advent of I-275 and more recently I-471 has significantly decreased drive times, making Anderson Township and areas further east significantly more viable commuter communities.
Accordingly, Anderson Township’s growth history remained rapid and constant from the early 1950’s to the mid 1990’s. This steady population growth, expressed to developers cryptically as “rooftops” continued to attract a corresponding volume of commercial goods and services in response to increasing residential needs.
Though there is a considerably smaller supply of land in recent years accompanied by extreme fluctuations on the economy, new housing starts continue, along with a compliment of commercial developments.
Considering its 4 mile length, the corridor is considerably less dense than others in the region. The corridor does not include a major covered retail mall such as Northgate or the Kenwood Towne Center, which add 1.0 million square feet plus accompanying out lots to their respective corridors on Colerain Avenue and Montgomery Road. Despite the absence of a traditional shopping mall, Beechmont Avenue contains approximately 400 businesses, most of which are occupying small strip facilities or free standing structures. Ironically, what it may lack in actual physical density is offset by the perception that the corridor is extremely crowded, albeit with considerably smaller commercial strip centers and individual properties.
Five Mile north of Beechmont 32,178
Five Mile Road south of Beechmont 54,601
Traffic counts reveal a high volume of commuter traffic heading toward Downtown Cincinnati during the two major drive time periods. A considerable amount of this volume passes through the Beechmont Corridor
The Township’s concerns over Beechmont Avenue are not unique. Approximately 1/3 of the nation’s traditional shopping malls are either deteriorating or closed.
Strip mall space accounts for over 10% of total commercial vacancy. It has been similarly estimated that in excess of 300 million square feet of big box retail sits vacant.
Though these figures are troubling, they also present opportunities for creative reuse of vacant spaces and site redevelopment.
The Township has conceived of and implemented several redevelopment initiatives in the Beechmont Corridor.
2001: In response to residents’ concerns the Township developed and adopted the Beechmont Landscape Plan, an attempt to install increased greenery within the corridor, giving the area a more contemporary feel.
2005: Anderson issued its first Comprehensive Plan which addressed a number of concerns for Beechmont Avenue’s development arc.
2005: The Township produced the updated Beechmont Corridor Plan. This plan sought to create a sense of place within the corridor through development patterns and land use. The update introduced the mixed-use neighborhoods concept to the Beechmont Corridor.
2009: The Township released the Anderson Trails Plan, which won the Ohio Planning Association’s Plan Implementation Award, provided recommendations for pedestrians and bicyclists along Beechmont.
Each of these planning efforts has connected planning professionals, technical experts, government agencies, citizens, businesses, property owners, and key stakeholders, to arrive at a vision for Beechmont Corridor.
The core issues that emerged involve efforts to offset the classic elements in the historical suburban commercial strip environment:
Signage: Innovative approaches to signage/way-finding numbers have been installed along Beechmont Avenue to orient motorists.
Enhanced Zoning Regulations: Addressing signage, parking and landscaping, including modifications to the site plan review process occasioned by requested property changes.
Access Management: Driveway restriction regulations have been established by ODOT and the Hamilton County Engineer’s Office.
Pedestrian access: Over 3,000 linear feet of sidewalk has been built since 2000.
Innovative Infrastructure: Intersection streetscape improvements have been constructed at four intersections (Salem, Asbury, Nagel and Eight Mile) consistent with the Beechmont Vision Plan. Changes include decorative stone walls, pavers, and new handicapped ramps, landscaping, and enhanced crosswalk markings.
Anderson Accessways: Wayfinding signs, identifying access to businesses were erected at the Five Mile Center and New England Club Drive.
Beechmont “Neighborhood” Concept
Among the valuable insights emerging from previous inquiries is the conceptual construct that divided the Beechmont Corridor into a series of six distinct sub-areas. This approach avoids the pitfall of viewing the corridor as one-dimensional. Beechmont Avenue’s character, strengths, and challenges vary over the course of the six sub-areas. This provides public officials, planners, and prospective developers the opportunity to focus more clearly on conditions and issues that occur in selected areas. This inquiry briefly examines each to identify their respective roles in the overall study area. It is interesting to note that the term “mixed-use “ in this context differs significantly from the term used to describe the recommended form of redevelopment discussed extensively in this text. The Vision Plan described six differing environments over Beechmont Avenue’s length. Specific mixed-use developments are composed of internal components that reflect a variety of interactive uses within a specific project.
The 2005 Beechmont Corridor Vision Plan introduced six “Mixed-Use Neighborhoods” that includes:
City West to Salem Road
This sub-area represents the first suburban development beyond the City of Cincinnati’s corporate limits east of the Mt Washington neighborhood. The housing scale continued much as that in the City. Commercial needs were less concentrated than they had been in centralized neighborhood business districts in Mt. Washington. Commercial activity shifted toward newer commercial development appearing at intervals along Beechmont, serving shoppers within relatively short distances.
Transition: Salem Road
This mostly modest residential area remains much as it has for the past half century. Residential properties are distributed among adjoining side streets and along the Avenue. Over time, a number of residential dwellings along Beechmont became converted to small offices, occupied by accountants, attorneys, medical, and other commercial users. Signage is relatively low-keyed in this area. This portion of Beechmont contains a number of relatively small, neighborhood-scale retail/service strip centers. Tenants represent a mix of local brand retailers, restaurants, services, etc. There are few national brand businesses, with the significant exception of chain pharmacies, with a recently renovated Walgreen store at the corner of Salem and Beechmont. There is, however, a plentiful assortment of local brands.
This portion of Beechmont has seen attractive infill office and service development. The transition is quite smooth moving east toward the Beechmont/Five Mile Road intersection.
The Anderson Towne Center does justice to its name, as it is effectively the focal point of the Beechmont corridor and for the Township in general.
Centrally located at the intersection of Beechmont Avenue and Five Mile Road, the Towne Center’s footprint was significantly enhanced with the addition of the Kroger Marketplace store, reputedly one if not, the highest sales volume unit in the Cincinnati region.
The Town Center contains a reasonably broad range of shops, anchored by Macy’s. Pharmacy, fuel, and additional food uses occupy the out lots adjoining Kroger’s Marketplace, making the Towne Center a truly full service venue, with a plentiful range of goods and services, entertainment, and food establishments.
The Towne Center emerged after the demise of the former Beechmont Mall, a traditional covered shopping center built in the late 1960’s.
Christ Hospital’s 70,000 sf healthcare facility across the avenue complements both the Marketplace and Towne Center facilities. It is significant and a testament to the strength of this area that a major healthcare facility located on a site that was the former Kroger location and a short-lived retail user. In many other communities a similar site might lie fallow for years.
The area is well landscaped, relatively easy to navigate in terms of parking and wayfinding, and is quite walkable once one passes the parking area and continues through a network of connecting sidewalks. The principles of new urbanism adapted to the suburban environment have the best chance of being realized at the Towne Center. The area to the north has long-term development potential for a broad range of uses.
As one continues north on Five Mile Road, Anderson Center, the Township Administrative facility is situated just beyond the Towne Center followed by Mercy Hospital and Group Health Associates complexes.
Despite an overall look and feel of cohesion and activity, the area is vulnerable to aging real estate and degraded tenancy. A recent example can be found at 7731 Beechmont, a free standing commercial structure built in 1953. It was purchased by the former Pete’s Photoworld in 1990 as the company expanded from its original downtown store to a destination site in Anderson.
Pete’s Photoworld developed similar stores at other key destinations in the Kenwood and Tri-County areas. At the time, Anderson Township was in a high growth mode, having made populatuion gains of 33.29% and 15.75%, respectively, between the 1970-80 and 1980-90 censuses.
Pete’s Photoworld was purchased by Columbus’ Cord Camera in 2005. Cord operated the facility until it, too, went out of business in late 2013. Though ostensibly for sale, the property was recently leased to Loan Max at a rate of $19 sf. Loan Max is a variation on a “payday lender,” making loans on automobile titles. Though it is reasonable to conclude that payday loan offices and related operations have prolioferated in commercial corridors due to a difficult economy, the demographic composition of this portion of Beechmont would not appear to be optimal. This type of business has typically located further east, closer to Rt. 126 Beechmont/Amelia interchange at Nine Mile Road at the entrance to Clermont County’s Union Township.
Loan Max opeates a store at the eastern edge of Beechmont at I-275/Nine Mile interchange. Acquiring space at the Five Mile interchange effectvely brackets the area and ultimately broadens Loan Max’s market presence throughout the larger area.
Asbury to Nagel
This sector’s most aggravating element is signage. The area is dense with both national and local brands, each faithful to the classic concept of being noticed by consumers driving at thoroughfare speeds. Signs have become both overbearing in terms of size, placement, and aesthetics. Brand recognition and visibility are obviously critical factors in merchandising for businesses that inhabit traditional suburban commercial corridors. The dense signage in this segment makes for a “visual cacophony” that has, in many ways, become the nemesis of modern suburban retail shopping.
The Pinnacle Plaza retail strip facility at 7900 Beechmont is situated within this segment. Built in 1974, this aging facility hosts a much more modest complement of users, decidedly in the value retail category. Though it appears reasonably well maintained, it is a very traditional example of the strip format and is positioned at the softer end of the commercial real estate marketplace.
Nagel to Eight Mile Road
This segment of Beechmont highlight’s the commercial corridor’s major problem. Aging strip centers, smaller commercial strips of between 4 and 6 bays, and former single purpose buildings re-tenanted with a predictable lower tier successor user. The new occupant’s business is at either physical or aesthetic odds with the structure specifically built for the former occupant. There are, however, exceptions that strengthen the corridor’s local retail character.
Cherry Grove Plaza retail development is located at 454 Ohio Pike, just east of Anderson’s border on Beechmont. The facility was a prime example of a main stream strip center. It has been re-purposed to feature a higher volume of “value” tenants. The property is a good example of adjusting the retail mix while continuing to maintain an attractive facility. A Kroger store is the central component, but of a size and design representing an earlier generation in store design.
This portion of the corridor contains a number of automobile dealerships, as well as a plentiful supply of automotive support services.
Long established in the public’s mind as an auto dealership corridor similar in tone to Colerain Avenue, the dealership presence along Beechmont has changed somewhat over the past decade. Dealerships refresh their facilities with greater frequency than in past decades, driven by manufacturers’ requirements regarding signage, building design, on-site logistics, and related concerns. Some dealerships have left the Township’s portion of the corridor. Some left due to convulsive change in the larger automotive industry. Other dealerships and brands have migrated further east into Clermont County’s emerging regional market. Yet others have moved closer to the center of their target demographic. The Beechmont Auto Group’s decision to re-locate its Volvo dealership was to situate itself in closer proximity to the demographic that broadened when it added the Porsche and Maserati brands. It was not as a reaction to eroding circumstances on Beechmont. The Group continues to maintain multiple dealerships, remaining heavily entrenched in the corridor.
Nine Mile Interchange
The impact of rapid, dense development has manifest itself in the massive ODOT project to adapt this I-275/US 32 interchange to the increased volumes of both commuter and consumer traffic that has gravitated eastward toward the Eastgate area over the years.
This portion also contains numerous four to six bay retail strips of varying occupancy. There are noticeably inconsistent uses set side by side. A wine shop shares a strip with a payday loan outlet and a shop simply titled “We Buy Gold.” A tattoo shop in the strip center (8259 Beechmont) is another recent addition to the mix.
The transition from Anderson’s portion of Beechmont with Clermont County’s Ohio Pike is noticeable. The semi-rural atmosphere is fleeting as one progresses toward the dense and sprawling Eastgate area.
Among the core issues is the fact that the Township is no longer in the dramatic growth mode that drove all development sectors over the past five decades.
Anderson Township Population Growth
% Change 1970-80
% Change 1980-90
% Change 1990-00
% Change 2000-10
The most recent census data is hardly precipitous, but it does point to a gradual trend. National chains choose to locate in areas in which healthy growth is predicted over a multi-year period. The expectation was that demographics drove increased business.
By contrast, Clermont County’s Union Township has been experiencing aggressive growth that mirror’s Anderson Township’s halcyon years. Demographics are a driving force in development there.
Union Township Population Growth
% Change 2000-10
% Change 2000-15
Between the 2000 and 2010 national census, growth figures were dramatically different. The modest project over the coming five years may be attributed to the recovery period coming out of recession.
Comparing Similar Commercial Properties in Adjoining Jurisdictions
Four reasonably similar commercial strip properties are compared below. Two are located in Anderson. The other two are in Union Township. Anderson Station and Park Plaza are mid-sized retail strip centers. They are oriented toward local shopper’s needs, convenience food, and small professional spaces for businesses such as CPA firms, attorneys, and allied medical uses. Being local, the underlying demographic should indicate stability and growth in the local customer base, which is effectively illustrated in concentric circles of one and three miles. At five miles, there is general overlap with a multiple of locations competing for what is essentially regional business. At the five mile distance, sites are competing for larger purchase items, national brands, department stores, and unique destination establishments, such as Jungle Jim’s Eastgate location.
8094 Beechmont, 45255
834 Ohio Pike, 45245
Total SF: 43,100
Total SF: 45,259
Vacant SF: 9,080 (21%)
Vacant SF: 5,380 (12%)
Though each has vacancy, the Anderson properties are much higher. This is compounded by the respective demographics. The core demographic issue is that the growth prospects residfent population for these prperties.
Anderson 8094 Beechmont 45255
% Change 2010-2015 Estimated
% Change from 2010-2016 Estimated
Park Plaza 834 Ohio Pike 45245
% Change 2010-2015 Estimated
% Change 2010-2016 Estimated
The population most proximate to the Beechmont property is declining, whereas the opposite is true for the site located in Union Township. Their growth chartacteristics are projected to run in opposuite directions. 1
Aside from their respective physical characteristics, the properties rent rolls reflect additional perspective on the character of the local market.
HCDC took a sampling of commercial strip centers on Beechmont Avenue and Ohio Pike. These properties resemble one another in terms of size, age, and typical tenant mixes. They cater to two distinct local and regional markets.
451-834 Ohio Pike
$ per Sq.F.
671 Ohio Pike
834 Ohio Pike
How does Beechmont differ from Ohio Pike? Beechmont’s span from the City to Union Township is broad in its scope and atmosphere. As it progresses east, Beechmont becomes considerably more dense, intensifying the visual clutter. Businesses are set relatively close to the avenue. Their sites do not extend back significantly from the road with a few exceptions. Most strip centers are backed by residential areas that are within a few hundred yards of the commercial facilities.
By contrast, Ohio Pike, beginning at the Township corporation line is considerably less dense. It has a more expansive feel, with strips set back further from the roadway, interspersed with stand-alone structures, remnant of the earlier commercial development when the local villages of Withamsville and Tabasco were decidedly rural. The real estate is a decade newer. Uses resemble those on Beechmont, but appear to serve a somewhat lower demographic. Similar users are appearing on Beechmont as the real estate market gets increasingly softer. The Cherry Grove Center at the effective border between Anderson and Union Township has transitioned into more of a “value shopping” center than in its previous incarnation.
The Study Area’s Core Issues and Challenges
“Economic development and its resulting impact on township residents has been one of the top issues identified by residents and businesses throughout the 2005 and 2010 planning processes. Citizens want to see a more stable business community with vacant buildings occupied by new businesses, marketing of local businesses to the greater region and the ability to work and shop, all within the confines of Anderson Township” 2
Anderson residents’ concerns reflect the issues examined in this inquiry. Conditions for both local and national retail/service businesses, office facilities, entertainment, and other shopper’s goods have all felt the effects of the recent national recession. The Internet’s technological development and the dramatic rise in online consumerism have taken their toll on much of traditional retailing. There is a mounting concern that problems historically affecting urban commercial settings have finally come to the suburbs. Issues previously attributed to urban decline are taking differing forms in the suburban enclaves across the country. Approaches to remedying the situation have taken a curious reversal over the past several decades. Whereas urban areas sought revitalization through adopting many of the attributes of the suburban setting, the reverse appears to be on the rise as a return to many historic urban principles are taking shape in the emerging “New urbanism” movement. In a sense, the proverbial pendulum has reversed as many contemporary redevelopment techniques and formats have adopted these principles.
Typically, the edges of older urban areas were the starting points for suburban growth in corridors such as Beechmont. As a consequence of extended development, these areas lost a significant portion of their former commercial vitality. As the city’s bordering neighborhoods aged, signs of incipient decline became apparent and began to extend outward to the suburban corridor. This is readily observable in the Colerain Avenue and Montgomery Road commercial corridors.
Beechmont’s surplus commercial real estate, especially in the Nagel to Eight Mile segment, appears to be influenced from the newer suburban development to the east. Tenant quality has eroded in this area. Numerous smaller strip centers carry high vacancies. Some are empty. Conversely, other older properties are well tenanted, albeit with lower grade users than in the past. Local and regional commercial real estate professionals attribute much of this to market pressures for businesses more inclined to locate in the Eastgate area but which are in search of lower cost space.
The character of Beechmont’s retail goods and services remains local. Real estate professionals claim that the area is not attractive to national chains, department stores, high-end retailers; the stuff of potent malls and other retail concentrations. Though the Township’s demographics clearly reflect a local customer base for these businesses, the marketplace offers more central and/or accessible regional locations for such goods. Though the proximate demographic for the Kenwood Towne Center is undeniably strong, the retail center’s strongest asset is its ability to draw similar demographic customer profiles to its doors through a highly accessible network of vehicular routes. I-71 is the major feeder route, running on a northeast axis from Northern Kentucky to Cleveland. Connecting routes such as the Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway, the I-275 Beltway, and the Norwood Lateral provide maximum access to this facility. National retail chains have by passed the Beechmont corridor for lack of sufficiently sized sites, plus the demographic indicators that the Township is no longer growing.
Well designed public improvements have made sections of Beechmont more attractive, but have failed to mitigate the soft market conditions that exist in a number of the corridor’s sections.
The connectivity provided by the I-275 Beltway affords Township residents efficient and rapid access to Downtown Cincinnati’s Central Business District, Northern Kentucky, and the remainder of the metro region.
Connectivity has also enabled new development. The Newport Pavilion is an interesting example. The Kroger Marketplace that anchors the center is alleged to have almost 40% of its sales volume from Ohio consumers. Assuming patronage by residents of Mt Adams, downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine, one can reasonably conjecture that a significant portion of that volume can be attributed to other consumers who commute along I-471 en route to I-275 and the eastern portion of the metropolitan area. Real estate professionals speculate that additional retailers, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Target, will draw more of these customers as trip demands are consolidated on the return commute from the CBD. In the absence of definitive data, this scenario is speculative at best. It does, however, raise the notion that the efficiencies of connecting roads has also presented residential areas with alternative shopping routines that ultimately draw business away from residents’ traditional shopping patterns.
There Is a Visually Cluttered Look to the Beechmont Corridor
The commercial corridor’s appearance ranks as one of local residents’ major issues regarding Beechmont Avenue. This is not unique, as most suburban commercial districts of the same vintage are perceived with similar criticism.
The historic argument in defense of large, vividly colorful, branded signage was based an ability to attract prospective shoppers driving along the corridor at traffic speeds. The perception is exacerbated by Beechmont Avenue’s length and the high number of separate properties.
Visual clutter may be offensive. It may be seen as garish. It is, however, an enduring legacy of the auto-centric suburban paradigm and, to a much lower degree, remains effective in attracting the new or infrequent visitor. Strip centers offer some relief through a central monument or tower sign that includes all tenants. Conversely, many establishments, particularly fast food outlets, have redundant signage. The two examples pictured below often defend their signs as iconic. There is, however, an alternative perspective, contending that ‘iconic’ is diminished by ubiquity.
National business brands and their local operators/franchisees continue to express a vested interest in their signage. Anderson’s current design and signage regulations are forthright in addressing signage in new construction. These controls will, however, be challenged by the need to mount a collaborative effort with existing businesses that employ garish and physically overwhelming signage.
The Anderson Towne Center, a fine example of subtlety signage and way-finding infrastructure, exists in stark contrast to numerous properties located within a short distance to its east. Most shoppers would likely welcome the visual relief that this venue offers.
In many cases, their buildings’ architectural features are themselves signage. The McDonald’s arches are the franchise’s core symbol, yet they are both an integral element in the building design, and are typically accompanied by tower signs that can be viewed at a distance. This redundancy is unwarranted in dense environments such as Beechmont Avenue. As with local shopper’s goods, residents who patronize these chain businesses are familiar with their location.
Anderson’s recent design and signage initiative is a significant, positive step in the right direction. Judicious application of aesthetic guidelines and regulations can be an effective force in defining and reinforcing segments of the Beechmont corridor. Although these applications often carry either overstated or unrealistic expectations, they certainly can be selectively applied and very effective. Though often seen as an exercise in vanity, a highly compelling argument can be made for significantly reducing the visual clutter and sheer ubiquity of what has become overwrought symbols of suburban banality. Just about all communities would, at minimum, want to reduce the visual clutter that large branding signage has become.
Successful communities have engaged in a collaborative relationship with national chains to bring signage more in tune with the prevailing local aesthetic or, at minimum, in a lower profiled form.
Shoppers local goods needsare well met, comprising the majority of businesses along Beechmont. The regional retail and service market has shifted to the general Eastgate area.
The Beechmont Mall history is familiar to most anyone with an interest in this corridor and options for its redevelopment. There is a wealth of information regarding this retail center, split almost down the line between the factual and anecdotal.
As one of the earliest covered malls in the Cincinnati region, the Beechmont Mall was built in 1969 during a period when the Township was experiencing extremely rapid growth. At the time, the Mall provided a clear alternative in product offerings to the emerging Eastgate Mall in Clermont County, approximately 10 miles to the East. What eventually developed into the Kenwood Towne Center was close to 20 miles from Anderson and a relatively long drive in a time before the highly efficient connective roadways that circulate consumers throughout the Cincinnati region. The Mall was situated just across the Ohio River from the emerging, growing Northern Kentucky region. Aspiring to be a strong regional retailing and service center with a full complement of national chains, department stores, and smaller shops catering to a higher demographic was not an unreasonable goal before the late 1990’s. Pointing fingers abound on the root causes for the Mall’s demise. Aside from anecdotes relating to the Mall’s internal workings, it appears that the facility succumbed to a shifting economic base and greatly enhanced access to other retail centers, along with extremely robust competition. Kenwood Towne Center’s central location and access attract a demographic base that spans the Cincinnati market, making it a leader in retail for the overall region. The Eastgate Mall area has had a more modest, but nevertheless, influential impact on the regional retail map, spawning numerous sub-centers, a plethora of big box and other national retailers, as well as a significant share of automobile sales.
Local commercial leasing firms and their national clients tend to regard the Beechmont corridor as a highly attractive environment for local shoppers goods.
Retail Center Configurations
SF Including Anchor(s)
Primary Trade Area
1 or more
General Merchandise; Convenience
2 or more
Discount dept store, supermarket, drugs; home improvement, specialty discount apparel
General Merchandise; Fashion
(typically, enclosed mall)
2 or more
Full-line dept store, jr. dept store, mass merchant, disc dept store, fashion apparel
Super Regional Center
Similar to region with more variety and assortment
3 or more
Full-line dept store, jr dept store, mass merchant; fashion
Category killer, home improvement, disc. dept store, warehouse club; off-price
Leisure; tourist-oriented retail and service
Manufacturers’ outlet stores
Manufacturers’ outlet stores
It is a somewhat surprising and recent irony that big box and other large national retailers, whose presence was often considered validation of an area’s demographic strength, are taking a serious look at the amount of space they utilize and actually need. Brick and mortar national stores have seen their sales steadily eroded by the phenomenon of Internet retailers. A new dimension has emerged in which these retailers are further looking into their business plans for new ways to adapt to online competition. The relative efficiencies of operating space are under close scrutiny. Many big box and national retailers are re-assessing the size if their stores. The obvious and threatening impact of this downsizing may result in a huge inventory of facilities that will either need to be re-purposed or totally redeveloped from the ground up. Many in commercial real estate fear that the number of closings could quickly swell the already significant volume of commercial properties rendered [prematurely] obsolete by big box and other more regionalized retail development that now finds itself under pressure.
Commercial real estate professionals keeping track of store openings and closings have been forecasting for more than a decade that the day was coming when American retailers would have to pay for building way too many stores.
Some of the closings are driven by weak performance, such as Radio Shack, which has struggled to find its niche in the modern electronics world as it approaches its 100th birthday. But in other cases, closings are being announced by retailers such as Staples that have decided that in the Internet age, market dominance will not be achieved by building more brick-and-mortar stores.
Fulfilling local shopper’s needs is certainly not immune to these paradigm shifts, but is beginning to appear more resilient.
Though businesses serving local shoppers needs tend to be modest and often ephemeral and subject to turnover, they are somewhat insulated from the higher profile issues affecting national chains, in that they have no realistic Internet alternative. The controlling factors in this sector center mainly on matching the volume of business to the resident demographic.
Efficient Roadway Connections Create Differing Business Opportunities
The Beechmont commercial corridor through Anderson Township is particularly well connected to connecting roadways. I-275 interchanges at Five and Nine Mile Roads bracket the majority of the corridor’s commercial area. This high grade access offers local residents an efficient and timely commute to the urban core, as well as to points throughout the region. It also enables a much expanded customer base to obtain rather quick access to businesses from points beyond the local shopper’s goods demographic. Accordingly, this also expands location opportunities for businesses seeking lower occupancy costs.
Physical and Economic Conditions along the Beechmont Corridor Vary Greatly
As one moves east from the Towne Center, visual clutter, re-tenanted facilities and aging properties present a broad range of problems. They occur throughout the corridor; however, these properties are primarily between Nagel and Eight Mile Roads. This situation is rooted in the surplus of older, often obsolete real estate along Beechmont. These properties are rare in the western section of Beechmont, but increase as one passes the Towne Center area and continue with greater frequency moving east toward the Clermont County/Union Township line.
Local and regional real estate professionals are generally in agreement that there is an excess of commercial retail/service property in the Greater Cincinnati region. There have been numerous areas of growth, but typically at the cost of movement from other areas as opposed to increasing population and accompanying demand in the overall market area. Disjointed design provides a confused visual image and a significant number of properties are in questionable physical condition.
There is an increasing sense of incompatibility among business neighbors. The Beechmont corridor through Anderson is considered to be a venue for local and a few chain national brands. It is not considered a destination for consumers from out of the local area.
Shopping venues vary in tenant quality and physical condition. The two do not necessarily occur in tandem.
Mixed-Use Projects and New urbanism
Over the past three decades, there has been an increasing awareness within the development community that greater variety and density, compactness, and operating efficiencies could be better achieved through a mixed-use development concept.
Though initially regarded as a hedge against risk, mixed-use projects have now become desirable and have achieved a land use and zoning response from progressive public officials.
As inner-ring suburbs across the country become denser, development professionals expect rise in demand for access to nearby, walkable urban environments.
Though this demand may in fact rise, many practitioners will question the degree to which this can be realized in realistic and logistically feasible terms. Residents are looking for shorter driving distances to commercial, cultural, leisure, and work opportunities.
Suburban environments differ widely. Many communities and comparable neighborhoods in older, established, traditional cities may be more readily adaptable to developing new or improving upon existing pedestrian networks that can decrease dependence upon the automobile. Other suburban settings are much broader geographically, lack an adequate public transit network within their boundaries, and are otherwise more auto-centric. This is an assessment that will ultimately determine the extent to which communities can be adaptable to new urbanism principles.
The principles of new urbanism provide a useful framework for infill development and redevelopment in these areas, as long as they are informed by the best practices of successful retail and mixed-use design, awareness of the capital allocation and financing realities faced by developers, attention to market demand and demographic trends, and new approaches to coping with and parking the automobile.
Early new urbanism efforts applied these principles to new, primarily residential projects. Extending the concept to mixed-use projects is not without a string of caveats.
The challenges involve land use issues as well as the market prospects for businesses and other non-residential users to succeed in the mixed-use setting.
In addition, a new Main Street-style retail project may have difficulty competing with existing regional retail projects in the suburbs.
“Peoples’ lifestyles and how they want to live are changing,” explains Walter S. Clements, CCIM, president of Greenleaf Properties in Overland Park, Kansas. Greenleaf Properties is developing the Shoppes at Deer Creek Woods, which combines 275,000 sf of retail space with 185,000 sf of offices, a 129-unit hotel, and both rental and for-sale housing on 56 acres of land in Overland Park.
There is a growing demand for mixed-use that enables people to work, shop, exercise, and be entertained close to home. This demand has brought about a growing consensus among economic development professionals, architects, planners, housing developers, public officials, and lenders that mixed-use projects are currently the most progressive and sustainable options for both urban and suburban settings.
The category is not new, but rather, updated to address and perhaps transform a more contemporary framework.
With origins in the dense urban setting of the traditional city, mixed-use buildings contained a range of uses. We are familiar with modern high-rise developments in urban downtown areas that combine office with supportive retail/service spaces, typically situated on the structure’s ground floor. The retail and service businesses cater to both the office population and that from the street. The concept is often expanded to include larger [national] retailers, formal restaurants, and in recent decades, residential users. The primary access and occupant circulation is pedestrian-oriented. Office occupants, residents, and people in nearby facilities do not need automobiles to access goods and services. Occupants and visitors typically have access to parking facilities to accommodate automobiles. In cities with well-developed mass transit systems, a significant percentage of both workers and residents do not rely on automotive transportation. In essence, this is a classic vision of a high density urban environment.
Cities actively engaged in revitalization have focused on re-capturing the density, scale, and overall ambiance of the classic urban village. Many downtowns across the nation still have relatively recent historic roots in mixed-use facilities. The streetscape is still pedestrian dominant. High concentrations of residential development have been able to attract retail and service users that adapted to a denser, less auto-centric urban landscape
The “New urbanism” has emerged as a powerful revitalization and redevelopment movement in recent years. Principles involving density, pedestrian-centric, the integration of work, shopping, entertainment, services, historic preservation and sustainability have looked to the mixed-use project as the vehicle for realizing these goals.
Mixed-Use Project Configurations
Convenience goods and services
Main Street residential/commercial
Two to three-story buildings with residential units above and commercial units on the ground floor facing the street
Urban residential/ commercial
Multi-story residential buildings with commercial and civic uses on ground floor
Office buildings with small retail and service uses oriented to the office workers
Multi-family residential units within office building(s)
Retrofitting of a suburban retail area to a more village-like appearance and mix of uses
Residents can operate studios or small workshops in the building where they live
Residents may operate studios or small workshops in the building where they live
Mix hotel space and high-end, multi-family residential
Parking structure with ground-floor retail
Adaptable to a broad variety of retail users, including supermarkets
Single-family detached home district with stand alone shopping center
Adapting mixed-use project concepts to the suburban setting has also been on the rise across the United States. “Every suburban city now wants pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented, vertically integrated mixed-use projects,” says John Breitinger, CIM, vice president and general manager of real estate investments with United Properties in Minneapolis that is developing a mixed-use project in Wayzata, Minnesota.
Anderson Township has varying opportunities for mixed-use development. Initially, it is recommended that the first project be an outgrowth of the current Anderson Towne Center, as that facility reflects several of the fundamental elements of “new urbanism” thinking.
Having its roots in the traditional urban setting, the mixed-use project is not a “one size fits all” concept. The above table illustrates the conceptual range of mixed-use projects. Accordingly, the following caveats need to be considered:
General: The idea of “build it and they will come” may not pan out for developers unless the demographics are right, the population numbers support it, and individual uses are timed to market needs.
Site size: Mixed-use projects require significant site size in suburban settings. This inquiry identified few sites above 12 acres. The reasonable inference to draw here is that site assemblage for mixed-use developments may be an arduous, lengthy process. One relatively unique aspect of commercial development along Beechmont’s Anderson Township sector relates to the relatively closeness between commercial uses fronting the Avenue and residential subdivisions within a short distance behind them. This has been an issue in site assemblage, and also has possible implications for mixed-use. Finding the right site for a suburban mixed-use project is important in today’s changing real estate market.
Land Use Densities: Combining office components with residential and retail/ service uses implies a higher density than has traditionally been the standard in suburban communities. This inquiry can only speculate that density issues might arise regarding multi-family development in mixed-use projects. Some are met with opposition from residents who want to keep the town’s population density low and retain local character. However, developers and commercial real estate professionals look for areas where the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Working with/reconciling with neighborhood groups over added traffic, parking, and tenants’ hours of operation, infill is a thorny business. Why then are some developers choosing to tackle urban redevelopment rather than more conventional single-use projects in smaller markets?
Form Based Code: This land use approach is fast becoming an integral component in developing multi-use projects. Though all jurisdictions employ land use controls, suburban design has historically separated distinct uses from one another. Projects that seek to integrate multiple uses are challenging in the traditional code paradigm.
Form-based codes use physical form, as opposed to Euclidian zoning which mandates separation of uses as the organizing principle for jurisdictional land use oversight. This approach seeks to codify rather than merely issue guidelines, addressing the relationship between building facades and the public space. It places major concern for the form and mass of buildings and how they, in turn, relate to one another. The codes seek to employ regulation to balance aesthetics, character, and more traditional land use policies to achieve an integrated built form.
Lastly, the approach comprehensively considers the sum of these elements in determining the scale and overall site layout.
These new codes aspire to achieve a community vision based on enduring forms of urbanism. The automobile, density, and combined uses are challenged by the entrenched concepts of suburban development. Accordingly, they have both technical and emotional aspects.