With new MLK interchange, studies predict changes

Last month the first ramp of the I-71 interchange at Martin Luther King Drive opened to traffic. The interchange, which is slated for completion later this summer, is forecast to have a state-wide economic impact of more than $1 billion and is already propelling massive development in the adjacent Innovation Corridor.

Uptown’s new front door is swinging open, positioning the area for unprecedented economic development and innovation.

In April, the northbound ramp from Martin Luther King Drive (MLK) onto I-71 opened to traffic. The remaining ramps of the new I-71/MLK interchange are slated to open this summer. Although the new interchange – the first in Cincinnati’s urban core since the freeway system was completed in the early 1970s – will dramatically improve the entrance to Uptown, it likewise poses a chance for economic growth.

“Uptown is has begun another level of transformative change,” Uptown Consortium President and CEO Beth Robinson said. “The new MLK interchange presents an opportunity for positive economic change in the area directly off of the interstate and gives residents, employees and visitors direct access to some of Cincinnati’s largest institutions.”

The University of Cincinnati Economics Center forecasts the economic impact of the MLK interchange and potential projects in its May 2012 report.

“The proposed interchange, coupled with the redevelopment that is a likely consequence, makes Uptown much more competitive as a location for spinoff technology and research commercialization businesses, and it reduces the likelihood that new high‐tech firms will move to competing university/technology research districts in other cities,” the report noted.
Among the interchange’s myriad benefits the report cites:

  • Economic impact. The project is expected to have more than $1 billion in total economic impact. That figure can be traced to an initial $325 million of anticipated private investment that will likely produce a change inthe economy of more than $460 million in Hamilton County and $290 million in other parts of Ohio, in addition to more than $100 million in construction.
  • Job creation and retention. Construction of the interchange and development of the surrounding area are expected to create 2,950 short‐term jobs. However, the projects will likewise promote permanent job growth. Major Uptown institutions are expected to add as many as 3,000 permanent positions, and new businesses will contribute up to 2,000 more jobs. The interchange is also critical to retaining businesses that might otherwise leave the district taking between 1,900 and 2,300 jobs with them.
  • Additional tax revenue. New business is expected to contribute more than $200 million in sales, earnings and property taxes to city, county and state coffers.
  • Improved quality of life. When the interchange is completed it will alleviate congestion on neighborhood streets. New growth will bring additional amenities to the area, including retail and dining options.
  • Access to care.  Even more significantly, the new ramps will dramatically improve access to emergency care for people throughout the region. Some 17,000 patients are expected to use the interchange to access trauma and emergency care at Children’s and University hospitals, enabling them to receive potentially life-saving care faster. In addition, the new interchange will enable more efficient disaster response in the event of a major emergency.

Is the Corridor unfolding as predicted?

The interchange has already spurred several important ancillary projects in the area, including Children’s Hospital’s $41 million Vernon Manor II office complex and the University of Cincinnati’s $50 million Neuroscience Institute. But the interchange’s greatest and most immediate influence will be on the nascent Uptown Innovation Corridor.

Since construction began, the Uptown Consortium has invested $25 million in more than 100 properties to support its vision of a mixed-use venture spanning the intersection at MLK and Reading Road. The proposed pedestrian-friendly, live-work-play environment will extend north and south to encompass major Uptown research institutions. 

The Corridor features 44 acres capable of supporting 4 million square feet of commercial development. It will be home to NIOSH, UC’s 1819 Innovation Hub, a $16 million research accelerator which is located in the former Sears Building at the southeast corner of Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue. The 133,000-square-foot accelerator will provide space for start-up companies born from UC led projects and technologies.

In addition NIOSH announcing their new 14-acre site selection, later this year Terrex Development & Construction and Messer Construction Co. will begin construction on a six-acre site on the southeast corner of the Reading Road and MLK intersection. The pedestrian-friendly project will include three office buildings, providing approximately 450,000 square feet of Class A office, a 200-room hotel, offering both limited- and extended-stay rooms, ground floor retail space and an underground parking structure for 1,800 cars topped by a park.

“All of this builds on Uptown’s existing strengths,” Robinson said. “The new MLK interchange is just the beginning for our vision for Uptown. We plan to create a district that will incubate talent and attract innovative businesses.”