CINCINNATI (AP) -- With three weeks still to go before the last of four Ohio casinos opens in Cincinnati, the $400 million facility already has helped transform the surrounding neighborhood and contributed to a decrease in crime.
The two-story, 400,000-square-foot casino sits on what used to be a shabby parking lot on the edge of downtown Cincinnati in the small but artsy neighborhood known as Pendleton.
Almost two years to the day since the casino broke ground, more than $22.9 million has gone toward widening streets, replacing busted sidewalks, planting trees, improving lighting, installing public art and creating a large, grassy plaza for live events.
Those efforts were designed to make the area safer, more attractive, and more walkable, while making the casino more inviting.
"This isn't just an investment in a building, but an investment in a neighborhood and an entire community," said Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls at a news conference Tuesday in a new mini park that sits between Pendleton and the casino.
Statistics from Cincinnati police show that crime in the 900-person neighborhood decreased from 212 incidents in 2011 to 141 last year, a 34 percent decrease and the largest year-to-year drop Pendleton has ever seen. Rapes fell from three in 2011 to one in 2012 while burglaries fell from 19 in 2011 to five in 2012, a 74 percent decrease.
On top of improvements surrounding the casino project, Cincinnati police also targeted Pendleton last year as part of a neighborhood enhancement project, said Sgt. Elena Moton, the neighborhood liaison for Pendleton.
Among those efforts included stepped-up enforcement of housing codes, cleaning up graffiti and litter, installing security cameras, and repairing streets.
Pendleton also has attracted new residential development, with an Indianapolis developer planning to put 170 luxury apartments in an old school; 86 affordable-housing units also are planned.
Andrew Salzbrun, a Cincinnati native who has lived in Pendleton for the past year and a half and is vice president of the neighborhood council, said he's noticed the area "drastically improve" in a short period of time.
Salzbrun, 27, said he's heard other neighbors worrying about increased vehicle traffic because of the casino but that he's not concerned about it.
"I don't think there's a lot of downfall for activating a vacant parking lot and turning it into a usable space," said Salzbrun, co-owner of a 4-year-old Cincinnati-based marketing firm called AGAR.
"It was all blacktop and not a very well-kept place, there was little to no lighting," he said of the space the casino now occupies. "It was more of an eyesore than anything else."
The casino is set to open on March 4.
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