26 Jan 2011, Posted by admin in Stories, No Comments.

Communities in Transition: Blue Ash

Thinking big and small contributes to Blue Ash’s evolution.

Story by Madison Galster/NMB

When Charlene Insco started searching for a quaint restaurant business five years ago, it was a no-brainer when she and her husband learned about the opportunity to purchase the family-owned Blue Ash Chili parlor at 9565 Kenwood Rd. The community of Blue Ash, a 7.7-square-mile area located just northwest of Cincinnati, Ohio, has provided loyal patronage to the parlor since the doors opened in 1969.

“We have regulars that come in every day, we have new people that come in every day and we have our customers that we’ll see once every few weeks,” said Insco. “We’ll have a lawyer sitting next to a construction worker, who is sitting next to a CEO. We get a mix of everything.”

Much of Blue Ash Chili’s success is due to the commercial expansion that took off when the community incorporated in 1955. The majority of the community that was not zoned for residential use was farm land and open green space that was available for redevelopment. The newly formed city government was more than ready to prove that Blue Ash could be a self-sufficient community apart from the City of Cincinnati, and the open land and central location attracted large corporations, such as Procter and Gamble, that were looking to expand.

Blue Ash now serves as home to nearly 2,000 businesses ranging from large employers such as Proctor and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, Duke Energy and Toyota to small, 15-employee boutiques and restaurants, according to City Manager David Waltz.

Slideshow by Lauren Justice/NMB

“I think the one misconception that people have is that Blue Ash only has big businesses and that we only care about big businesses,” said Waltz. “Most of our businesses are small and medium sized companies and that’s what we spend our time and effort on. That’s where the success is.”

The success stories of small businesses such as Blue Ash Chili aren’t recognized strictly by locals; FORTUNE Small Business Magazine named Blue Ash as one of its top 100 places to launch a small business in 2008. “We prove the misconception wrong with the award, number one,” said Waltz. “Number two, people have to understand that big business is successful in Blue Ash but there are only a handful of big companies in town.”

Large and small businesses alike contributed to the double-digit-growth revenue stream that Blue Ash experienced from the 1970s and through the 1990s. It has only been in the past 10 years that the community has undergone a sort of “leveling-off” in terms of civic revenue.

“As Blue Ash matures, like any rapidly growing community, they go through this life cycle where they grow rapidly, much of the green space gets developed and filled and then kind of reach this plateau,” said Waltz. “We still have development and some redevelopment going on but it’s at a slower rate than it used to be. The issue isn’t about whether business is flourishing or not flourishing. It’s a space issue.”

When Blue Ash was settled in 1791 by pioneers such as the Hunts, Ferrises and Carpenters, there was more than enough room for mercantile and farming businesses. Proximity to the Ohio River provided easy access for trade and communication, but Blue Ash offered something more. According to Beverly Mussari, who recently stepped down from her position as president of Blue Ash’s Historical Society, the Blue Ash airport, opened in 1921 by brothers Hugh and Parks Watson, was an integral part to the commercial success of the community. The field provided airmail service routes that placed Cincinnati on the map.

Before commercial redevelopment started to take flight in the area, the airport’s location on the corner of Glendale-Milford and Plainfield roads was considered by the City of Cincinnati as the potential future site of the city’s commercial airport. Blue Ash civic leaders rallied in response; a successful attempt at incorporating the city put the idea on the back burner, eventually resulting in the development of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Covington, Kentucky, and the survival of the Blue Ash Airport as a general-use airfield.

Blue Ash Airport currently houses three different businesses on its 226-acres of land that is still owned by the City of Cincinnati, according to Thomas Besl, flight instructor for Co-op Aircraft Service, 4273 Glendale-Milford Rd. In November of 2006, residents of the community voted in favor of the purchase agreement, configured by the City of Blue Ash, which proposed the acquisition of the north 130-acre portion of the City of Cincinnati-owned airport’s triangle plot. The City of Cincinnati has since been in the process of applying for and receiving funding from the Federal Aviation Association to reconfigure the airport to fit in with the transitional plans of the surrounding Blue Ash community.

“The reason we purchased the airport was we are going to build a central park type facility,” said Waltz. “We went to our voters and asked them if they wanted us to do that and they overwhelmingly approved the initiative, by over two to one. And they supported the concept of levying some additional tax dollars for the sole purpose of buying a portion of the airport and converting it to an outstanding park that will be a great amenity for our residents and businesses.”

Although there is a preliminary plan for the future appearance of the area, no definitive arrangements have been made. What is clear, however, is that Blue Ash continues to grow into itself. The renovation of the airport is merely another stepping stone in the maturation process of the city that surrounds it.

“It’s been up in the air since I’ve been here, since I started flying here,” said Besl. “If you would have asked me a year ago if this place would still be here I’d say ‘Hell no’ but we’re still here. I don’t know how we’re still here, but we’re still here. When I show up for work and there’s a chain on the door and they tell me to find a new job, that’s when it’s over.”

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