Kelly Adamson collaborates to keep OTR open for business

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Photos and video by Madison Schmidt

Kelly Adamson grew up serving in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. A Wyoming High grad, Adamson learned the value of helping others from her parents so she spent many a day handing out sandwiches in Washington Park. Today, she walks through that same park amazed at the transformation of not only that area but the entire neighborhood.

As the executive director of the Over-the-Rhine Chamber, a job she’s had for not quite a year, Adamson is charged with the task of keeping this sui generis neighborhood thriving, while balancing new business with new residents.

“We don’t want to be seen as just the bar and restaurant district, but we want to have businesses that compliment residents, like dry cleaners and nail salons,” she said.

This weekend is a big one for OTR, with the 11th annual OTR 5K and Summer Celebration kicking off the event/festival season for the neighborhood. In the past, the 5K has been a one day event—this year, it’s two days, Friday and Saturday.

Kelly offers: “Friday night, people can pick up their race packet at the Central Avenue YMCA, then come over to Washington Park, see Art on Vine and listen to live music on the Washington Park deck. I think one day down here isn’t enough—you need a couple of days to explore OTR.”

The OTR 5K is an opportunity for people who don’t normally visit the neighborhood to see how the area has developed into a destination for businesses as well as residents.

“The OTR 5K is our largest fundraiser,” she said. “One of our missions is to promote economic vitality, and this is one way to bring thousands of people down here with the run. And with the kickoff of City Flea, and bringing in live bands into Washington Park, people will come down here and they’ll explore and they’ll want to come back down at a later time.”

The advantage OTR has, according to Adamson, is its network of small business owners selling quality, one-of-a-kind items.

“We are up against a very heavy on-line shopping environment right now,” she said. “People can sit on their couch and open their laptops and with the click of a button, have a whole new wardrobe. We would like to say, ‘come down here, there is such a high quality of retail, and you’re supporting local businesses. You’re supporting someone’s dream, someone’s business story.’”

Now that businesses are locating to OTR, it’s Adamson’s job to keep them there. “We have so many wonderful spaces, we want to reward our businesses for taking the risk to come here. We want to say that we support you in creating this vibrant environment.”

Retention includes a 10-20 year plan to continue OTR’s growth.

“OTR is not a temporary site for revitalization,” Adamson said. “We want it to be sustainable and new and creative. We want to have companies make it their home.”

Empower Media Marketing is one of the companies now making OTR its home, planning to relocate its 100 or so employees from Mt. Adams. “Those employees will create more opportunities to connect with our businesses and create investments in OTR. “

But it’s not just business Adamson is looking to grow: It’s also the residential component, and not just millennials.” I see families moving down here, saying we want to be part of this urban neighborhood. And some of the things we can work on is bringing more neighborhood services in and complementing the businesses with the residents who do live here. Because we want residents of all incomes to feel like they have businesses they can shop at, like Findlay Market, creating this mix of culture.

“What I see is opportunity. We plan to accomplish so many amazing things in the next few years. Everyone says, ‘OTR is fantastic,’ and I say, we haven’t even started yet.”