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Op-Ed: Kent Lofts Project Helps Bellevue See a Better Version of Itself

The following was first delivered as remarks by James Dady, a member of the City of Bellevue's planning and zoning commission, at the groundbreaking of the Kent Lofts project last Thursday. The remarks are printed here as an op-ed, with permission.

I'm on the Bellevue planning and zoning commission and I suppose we were among the first points of contact with the folks from Ashley and Orleans when they proposed their project.

I think the initial reaction we had was incredulity. Who in their right mind thinks that can turn this big old factory into modern apartments where people will want to live?

We tinker here and there with our zoning code to meet new conditions, but I'm told that our basic document has been around since the 1960s. 

It took a nip and a tuck in several places to accommodate a project of this size in a neighborhood at least a hundred years old. This took a little while. 

The developers along the way showed a great deal of consideration to the neighbors concerned about what the project would do to their parking arrangements. 

While they were under the usual pressures developers live with in launching a big deal, they showed patience with us as we worked through the cumbersome process of map changes and text amendments.

Photos: See inside the Kent Lofts building before the transformation

The developers quickly worked through their negotiations on a financing package with the city and the board of education. 

These people hung in there!

After a while our mood on the planning commission shifted to one of gratitude toward the developers.

Soon after that, there emerged excitement. 

These developers, Orleans and Ashley, have done Bellevue a great favor.

Not just the obvious ones: a $10 million investment, jobs and incomes flowing out of the project, a hundred or so new residents for a town that's lost a quarter of its population in the last forty years, a jazzy residential enclave in a part of town that hasn't had much in the way of major investment in decades.

The developers have given us something better and more important.

They're helping us see a better version of ourselves.

The developers certainly know the business environment out there. We're living in a competitive world. You don't think Cincinnati was jealous when Newport landed Newport on the Levee, or the Aquarium?

You don't think cities aren't scrapping for every dollar of investment out there - from the Catalytic Fund, from Southbank Partners, from Tri-ED, from OKI, from the private market?

It's a jungle out there - and whether we choose to be in it or not, we are engaged in that competition.

These developers have shown us how to find underdeveloped gems in our midst that we've overlooked ourselves, and shown us how to buff and polish and make them new again.

It's a great lesson.

What the experience with these developers teaches us is that Bellevue can be in the front rank of towns in the region.

Consider our assets: durable, historic, and attractive housing right in the pocket of what many young, and not-so-young, homebuyers want; a strategic location smack in the middle of one of America's great metro areas, and alongside one of the principal inland waterways; a cadre of business people with the entrepreneurial spirit to serve their clientele and take care of their families, and their employees and their families; emerging social networks coming together to make neighborhoods better, to make the town better.

Bellevue is the birthplace or residence of notable artists, political leaders, prominent people in business, famous people in the sporting world. 

Everywhere I go in the region, they tell me, 'I hear good things about Bellevue.'

We all know people who grew up here, moved away, and who are clamoring to get back here.

What the developers have reminded us of, and what we should remind ourselves every day, is that Bellevue can be the greatest little city in Greater Cincinnati.

Written by James Dady

Photo: The Kent Lofts building (RCN)