Thousands of people flood the heart of Downtown's business district, then head north to Over-the-Rhine. In doing so, they often pass right by Court Street.
It won’t be that way for long. The thoroughfare, with its tree-lined esplanade and Italianate architecture, is gaining momentum. Bars and restaurants are opening. Meanwhile, Kroger’s mixed-use tower at Court and Walnut is the definition of a catalytic development.
Yes, Court Street still features empty storefronts. But the potential is undeniable, because the reality of a resuscitated “midtown” district is just too good to pass up. In that spirit, let’s take a look at Court Street’s past so we can better understand its future.
OLD COURT STREET: The Canal Street Market
Once upon a time, Cincinnati had nine public markets. The Canal Street Market was the largest and most popular among them. Built in 1829, it sat on present-day Court Street between Vine and Walnut, just one block south of the old Miami Erie Canal.
For 85 years, goods and produce were unloaded at the canal and transported directly to the market, while hogs went from canal to slaughterhouse to market stall by way of underground tunnels. It was a bustling public space, and a pivotal one for the city's incipient identity. But in 1912, the market building was declared a health hazard, and in 1915 it was torn down.
To be clear, this isn’t a paean to Cincy’s golden age. An Enquirer excerpt detailed conditions that ultimately decided its fate. Conditions such as a meat locker doubling as a platform for someone's personal mattress, for example.
In 1988, Court Street's sidewalks were renovated, parking was added, and a bell tower was placed on the Vine Street median. But grander ambitions for Court Street faded as funding sources shriveled and the city’s attention turned decidedly north. That is, until last summer, when Kroger hit us with that doozy of a press release.
NEW COURT STREET: "Kro-TR?"
Many businesses were located on Court Street before Kroger's announcement. They include Washington Platform, Court Street Lobster Bar, Queen City Exchange, Northside Distillery, Kitty's Coffee, Tom and Chee, Le's Pho, Cuban Pete's, Skyline, and of course Avril-Bleh & Sons, which has been rockin' since 1894.
Still, you can’t mention Court Street without mentioning the 18 stories, 139 apartments, 550 parking spaces, and 45,000 square feet of grocery store that’ll be coming in 17 months. It’s a mammoth project, and it represents a dramatic change for the area.
Speaking of which, I can’t take credit for “Kro-TR.” It comes courtesy of Northside Distillery’s Christ Courts by way of a Business Courier article about Court Street folk trying to rebrand the district. And while entirely facetious, it does have a certain ring to it...
No matter what it’s called, the next steps for Court Street are clear: more bars, more retail, more residential. Maybe down the line we can even return the street to its carless roots and get a few market stalls on the weekends. But I think we’d all settle for it being the bustling place it was over a century ago.
And with the way things are going, it looks like that's exactly what's going to happen.