Children’s Expanding in Avondale

Cincinnati City Council voted on Aug. 9 in favor of a rezoning plan 6-3 for a $550 million expansion at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, located in Avondale. The project, one of the largest in city history, calls for rezoning parts of Avondale’s residential land and rerouting traffic on Erkenbrecher Avenue, north of the hospital’s campus, to build a parking garage and eight-story tower would reportedly add 276 beds to its capacity.

Councilmembers David Mann, Kevin Flynn, Amy Murray, P.G. Sittenfeld, Christopher Smitherman and Chris Seelbach voted in favor of the measure while Wendell Young, Yvette Simpson (a candidate in this year’s mayoral race) and Charlie Winburn voted against the expansion. Mayor John Cranley, up for reelection this year, also voiced his support for the project.

The hospital originally pledged $11.5 million for neighborhood development and community organizations in Avondale throughout the next five years. However, the Avondale Community Council has voiced its opposition to the plan for much of the past year. Community members worry about the 625,000 square foot project’s plans to demolish neighborhood homes leading to displacement of homeowners and families.

Opposition leaders have also voiced concerns regarding the construction’s impact on the health of residents living nearby. Avondale is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cincinnati, and such considerations could pose serious issues for the neighborhood’s low-income residents. Many in the community argue that the original proposal was put together largely without input from residents and that they will become victims of the institution’s continual expansion into the neighborhood as they stand in the path of progress.

Seeking to translate this opposition into policy, Councilmembers Simpson and Young–a lifelong Avondale resident–introduced amendments asking the hospital to invest five percent of the value of the development (between $27.5 and $32 million) into Avondale over the next 10 years, according to City Beat.

Michael Fisher, CEO of Children’s, believes his organization has been mindful of the concerns and needs of the Avondale community.

“We have been and will continue to be committed to being a good neighbor and a good partner,” Fisher said.

The investment proposals have been defeated, and the project will go ahead with the original amount promised to the community.

The hospital currently employs around 15,000 people, and the expansion would add approximately 600 new jobs. However, many in Avondale are skeptical about low-income residents’ ability to access those jobs, given the steep educational and technical requirements for such positions.

The patient tower would include an emergency wing and a rooftop helipad, expanding the hospital’s critical care capacity. Construction will begin in October with the new parking garage and is not expected to be completed until at least 2021.

According to Director of Government Relations for Xavier University Sean Comer, Avondale is a predominantly Black community that has been largely “neglected in a very serious way.” Comer says that the neighborhood is “at the heart of the city,” hosting the zoo, the hospital and parts of the University of Cincinnati campus. According to Comer, these locations stand in stark contrast to the incredible poverty experienced by residents who live there. In all, he says it is “an odd neighborhood” given its significantly endowed institutions located amongst so much poverty.

Speaking on Xavier’s responsibilities to the neighborhood in which the university is nestled, Comer said, “It’s important to know we’re situated in the middle of a city” and that “a lot of work was put into the conversations.”

Comer encourages Xavier students to take ownership of their community and work to mitigate the trials and tribulations facing their neighborhood by working on public and private considerations that impact it.

Asked for parting wisdom, Comer offered, “get engaged.”

By: Ryan Kambich ~Staff Writer~ and Soondos Mulla Ossman ~Copy Editor~