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Before: 19th Century $1-building; Now: luxury house/pizzeria

In 1850, Cincinnati was the second densest city in the country, but in the last century as residents began their flight to the suburbs neighborhoods lost population and in some spots, buildings were abandoned.

Walnut Hills was once considered Cincinnati’s second downtown, but in the last century, the area fell on hard times. When the historic firehouse burnt down in 1977, it was left to crumble for over 3 decades. A couple of years ago developer Kent Hardman bought the building from the city for $1. “When I purchased this building there was no roof on the back end, there was also a tree growing on the first floor, so it was in pretty rough shape.”

Hardman spent heavily to bring the building back to life- it’s now his loft apartment upstairs and a pizzeria downstairs- and he says he’ll only “break-even” with his investment, but he’s more interested in helping turn the entire neighborhood around. He invested in the building next door and vacant buildings across the street and hopes that traffic to the pizza parlor will bring some life back to these blocks.

He’s also relying on the community to help revive the area. Next door to the firehouse there’s a monthly “pop-up biergarten” (the Five Points Biergarten) that benefits from being part of a neighborhood clean-up project. There’s also a Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation working to encourage investment in the area.

Johnny Sanphillippo (owner of a small, mortgage-free home) filmed this story. On his blog, he writes about shoestring pre-vitalization: “a new generation is now beginning to rediscover neighborhoods like Walnut Hills and the city of Cincinnati understands that market demand is aligned with the existing building stock and historic urban fabric. “