With an eye to its valued residents, Montgomery, Ohio lays the foundation for growth
The Cincinnati suburb is home to tree-lined streets, quaint historic buildings, and brick-lined sidewalks, creating the atmosphere of small-town living all while delivering the sights and services the community desires.
“I like to think of Montgomery as creating the ability to deliver high-quality services in a high-quality way,” says Montgomery Mayor Craig Margolis. “We’ve strived to come through colonial times to the 21st century still preserving our small town feel, engaging our residents in decision making and also meeting other residents through events, a variety of commissions, and boards. We’re creating that small town feel and making it warm and comforting to live here.”
Decisions made in Montgomery aren’t just done by elected officials. Montgomery council welcomes and encourages input from its residents, ensuring that every choice is truly a community-minded one.
“We make plenty of opportunities for the residents to engage in the decision-making,” Margolis says. “We pride ourselves on that. If we are creating the project, we hold several open houses, hear the people out, listen, and get feedback. A lot of the time, we even modify what we intend to do to accommodate the greatest population of residents.”
The city is diligent when it comes to planning for its future. Every five years they develop a new five-year strategic plan to help guide decision-making into the future.
“It provides a roadmap for us to follow and focus on,” says Montgomery city manager Brian Riblet. “We are very diligent about planning and foresight, thinking about what we want and what would be best for the community.”
One of the city’s biggest projects that was planned with the community in mind is the new Montgomery Quarter. The $200-million mixed-use development has been in the works for over a decade and a half and has finally come to fruition. It started with the city purchasing 21 acres of land that were the site of two former car dealerships.
“Our city council created a vision for this site and it all started with purchasing the property so we could control the vision,” Riblet says. “It’s something both Tracy (Henao, assistant city manager) and I have been working on for about the past 15 years with staff members trying to make this dream a reality and we’re getting very close.”
Phase one is already underway, with the rest of the development project to be completed over the next three years. Located at the southern gateway to Historic Montgomery (the city’s downtown core), the new development will include 38,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, 260,000 square feet of office space, 128 luxury apartments, 48 condominiums and a boutique hotel that will feature multiple event spaces and luxury guest rooms.
“This is going to sustain Montgomery for decades into the future,” Riblet says.
Phase one has seen wealth management firm Fifth Third Private Bank move in to anchor the office building, with Hellman Clothiers coming into the retail space. Four restaurants are on the docket with a Bru Burger location opening, as well as Latin food restaurant Livery, Kozue offering Japanese cuisine, and Kitchen Social.
The final development will include 940 parking spaces located on the street and in two large parking garages.
The hotel, to be called The Hotel Rambler, will be run by Tapestry by Hilton and is scheduled to open in July 2024, and the apartments and condos will be ready for occupation in June 2023.
At the center of Montgomery Quarter is a new public park that will soon host some of the city’s many festivals, events, and concerts.
Events are at the heart of Montgomery, with several signature festivals and parades held throughout the year, including a July 4 parade that lasts over an hour and a half, as well as a Bastille Day festival that brings out thousands to enjoy all the food and music the city has to offer.
“I’m especially proud of the number of festivals and events that we have,” Margolis says.
“They’re another opportunity for our residents to get together and meet each other.”
As a small community, Montgomery has a few large employers – Bethesda North Hospital, Sycamore Community School District, and Constellation Insurance, but they primarily rely on small businesses to make up the fabric of its business community. With the introduction of the Montgomery Quarter, Henao sees a future for even more new businesses to take root.
“Montgomery Quarter is an opportunity for us to get new corporate clients within the city that will help balance out the city’s financial future and make sure that we are sustainable for years to come,” she says.
In addition to new corporate businesses, Margolis is hoping to see Montgomery Quarter expand the city’s small mom-and-pop-type shops.
“That’s what makes the city so special is the small shops,” he says. “We may have two or three national chains, but most of our stores are unique. That’s what we are looking for in the Montgomery Quarter project. We want unique-to-the-region, small shops, and restaurants so that we become a destination. We’re not just cookie cutter.”
Further making Montgomery a real destination is its historic downtown. Originally founded in 1795, the city’s downtown began to take shape in the early 1800s and that same look and feel still exists today.
“The history of the city is our brand,” Margolis says. “It has a very nice, colonial look. It’s a very small town, so the streets are narrow, which gives us a great feel. It has some nice, cute little shops and restaurants. The idea is to create a place for people to come and visit either at night or on weekends and even bring the family there, so there are some family opportunities, too. And of course, entertainment opportunities.”
In the 1970s, Montgomery’s council created a Landmarks Commission to recognize the historic buildings and help maintain them into the 21st century.
“These buildings don’t have modern floor plans, so it makes them difficult to use, but we have a grant program to help owners do some remodeling and modifications,” he says. “We have guidelines on what they can do to maintain the look and feel of an 1800s downtown.”
Adding to Montgomery’s quaint charm is its plethora of park space that provides both active and passive recreation to both residents and visitors alike.
“We have all kinds of playground structures and other activities for people to enjoy,” Riblet says. “We have basketball courts, tennis courts, pickleball courts, soccer is really big, and we do a really good job of blending all the active spaces with the passive spaces.
In addition to parks, Montgomery is home to several walking paths, and the city prides itself on being a very walkable city.
“One of the things that benefits Montgomery is our pedestrian connection,” Riblet says. “You can get to any of our parks via sidewalk, you can walk to any neighborhood via sidewalk. It was very important to us to create that sense of community through the connection with our sidewalks and I think that’s one of the things that our residents love about Montgomery.”
Montgomery’s dedication to its community doesn’t just stop at its physical needs. The city has worked hard to create a welcoming, inclusive, and sustainable atmosphere for its residents, as well. The city has set up a diversity and inclusion commission which has created a speaker series that focuses on cultural topics.
“In 2020 we received the Building Inclusive Community Award by the Cincinnati Business Courier,” Riblet explains. “That’s very important to our community – that we’re welcoming and we’re inclusive. We’re always striving to be a better community.”
They’ve also recently embarked on a mental health initiative for the city, that allows the city to connect residents to local resources available, as well as hosting community forums on topics like suicide prevention, anxiety, and depression.
“A lot of people don’t think local government has a role in mental health, and my response is that I agree. We don’t have the expertise or clinicians on staff to administer mental health help, but we can be a facilitator for that conversation and connect people with resources that are available to them,” Riblet explains.
Looking toward the future of Montgomery, Margolis hopes to continue to rely on the input from the community to make the city a better place.
“We want to focus on the resident, the value the government adds to the resident and how they can be involved, and I look forward to continuing that in the future and even sharpening that focus,” he says.
AT A GLANCE
What: Thriving, a community-centered town with growth on the horizon
Where: Situated in Hamilton County, Ohio