COMMUNITY GUIDE 2019–2020
A place to call home in southwest Ohio ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT • DINING • ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
DISPLAY UNTIL WINTER 2020
Middletown Offers Something for Everyone
elcome to Middletown! Whether this is your first visit or one of many visits, I hope you enjoy your time in our great city. We have many unique things to explore and enjoy. Our historic downtown is filling up with local shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. Along the Great Miami River is our new River Center and access to the Great Ohio River Trail. Our local parks range from nature preserves at Bulls Run Arboretum and the Armbruster Nature Preserve to Smith Park, which hosts local and regional soccer tournaments, and includes the Baker Bowl for skateboarding and a walking trail. We have over 40 local neighborhood parks that are perfect for a picnic lunch or letting children enjoy playgrounds and splash pads. Middletown has a long history in southwest Ohio; it was first settled in 1792. It was positioned along the Miami-Erie Canal, grew with access to railroads, and continued its expansion with the interstate highway system. Middletown celebrates a
long history of noted residents, from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Clarence Page to the two-time Olympic gold medal champion in judo Kayla Harrison. There are many volunteer groups that support a wide variety of causes, especially the arts and entertainment. The Middletown Arts Center hosts local and national art exhibits, the Middletown Historical Society has two museum facilities that highlight the history of the region, the Middletown Lyric Theater, The Sorg Opera House, and the Performing Arts Academy host a wide variety of live entertainment throughout the year. Best wishes for a wonderful experience in our city. Sincerely,
Lawrence P. Mulligan Jr. Mayor, City of Middletown
Table of Contents Welcome . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Economic Development . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6 Employers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Transit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Adrenaline Adventures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Bikeway . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Tantalizing Taste Buds . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Arts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Events . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 2
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Days of Yore Middletown has experienced successes and disasters in its past BY ERIC SPANGLER
iddletown’s history is rich in agriculture, industry and aviation. In fact, one of the first planes shot at by Japanese pilots during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was an Aeronca TC-65 Defender that was built in Middletown, says Rick Lawson, vice president of the Middletown Historical Society. The Aeronca TC-65 Defender was one of eight private aircraft in the air over Oahu at the time of the attack, according to the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor’s website. The pilot, Roy Vitousek, and his teenage son Martin, stayed in the air at 2,000 feet to avoid Japanese planes during part of the attack, according to the museum website. But as soon as Vitousek began taking fire from Japanese pilots he returned to John Rodgers Field and made a safe landing. He was lucky. Of the eight pilots in the air that day three were shot down, two of whom died, one was forced to bail out and two landed safely. Two pilots went missing and are presumed dead, according to the museum website. The Aeronautical Corporation of America, Aeronca for short, is now a division of Magellan Aerospace and is still producing aircraft, missile, and space vehicle components at its same location adjacent to the Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field. Middletown’s modern beginnings began closer to the ground. Daniel Doty became the first settler of Middletown when he built his cabin there in 1791, says Lawson. Incorporated by the Ohio General Assembly in 1833 and recognized as a city in 1886 Middletown began as a thriving agricultural trading community, he says. Tobacco was one of the leading products manufactured in Middletown and few cre-
Top: Sorg mansion on South Main Street Above: Floodwaters from the Great Miami River encroached on Main Street in Middletown in 1913. Right: Middletown’s first settler Daniel Doty
ated a tobacco company more successful than Paul J. Sorg. The P. J. Sorg Tobacco Co. became one of the largest in the world and Sorg, whose mansion still stands in the city’s Historic South Main Street District, became Middletown’s first multimillionaire. Sorg made many civic and charitable contributions during his lifetime, including the construction of the magnificent Sorg Opera House—designed by Samuel Hannaford—in 1891. The Sorg Opera House, at one time deteriorating and unused, is currently being renovated and is being used for concerts once again. “It’s nice to have it come back,” says Lawson. “It’s fantastic.” Middletown’s location next to the Great Miami River and being serviced by four railroads and the Miami and Erie Canal helped it rise into an industrial power-
house. No industry flourished as much, however, as George M. Verity’s steel mill built in 1900. Originally known as The American Rolling Mill Co. (Armco), the company is now known as AK Steel Holding Corp. and it continues to operate eight steel plants in five states, including one in Middletown. The company, now headquartered in West Chester, also opened its new $36 million Research and Innovation Center in Middletown in 2017. In addition to the successes that Middletown has seen it has also experienced disaster, including the Great Train Wreck of July 4, 1910, that claimed the lives of more than 30 people and the devastating flood of 1913, says Lawson. To learn more about Middletown’s history, visit middletownhistoricalsociety.com. n MI D D L E TO WN • 2 0 1 9 – 2 0 2 0
Officials banking on airport improvements and a revitalized downtown to spur economy
Middletown’s Efforts Are Taking Off BY ERIC SPANGLER
The Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field in the top right of the photo can easily accommodate corporate and cargo jets on its 6,100-foot runway.
iddletown officials are taking economic development efforts to new heights. The city recently received $1.5 million in grants for pavement rehabilitation and runway lighting improvements at Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field from the Ohio Department of Transportation, in addition to $480,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration for an airport layout/master plan, says Jennifer Ekey, the city’s economic development director. City officials plan to use those improvements at the airport, which is owned by Middletown, to attract more businesses to the area surrounding the airport, says Ekey. “Both of those (projects) are well underway and will help us solidify the plans that we have out there to make the airport an asset for the city,” she says. One of the best assets at the airport is its 6,100-foot runway. “We can land a (Boeing) 737 here if we need to,” says Ekey. Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field can easily accommodate corporate and cargo jets, she says. “A lot of other area airports would, frankly, kill to have our runway length,” says Ekey. The city and Middletown Area Development Enterprise Inc. are also providing an 4
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additional $72,000 to create the Cincinnati State Middletown Avionics Center, an avionics technician-training program at the airport, she says. The city has also partnered with Butler Tech to locate its drone technology program at the airport, says Ekey. The drone technology course prepares students to earn a commercial drone pilot certification. Those two education components at the airport will create a workforce to help support the aviation industry, she says. “So not only could you locate your business here but we will have certified and credentialed employees available to work for you,” Ekey says. Another key certification Middletown recently received is from the state of Ohio’s JobsOhio program that proves a 50-acre site surrounding the airport is ready to be developed, she says. That allows the airport property to receive additional marketing and exposure through JobsOhio, says Ekey. The city hopes to have another 80 acres around the airport certified soon through the same program, she says. City officials are pouring lots of time, effort and money into developing the airport because it gives Middletown a competitive
Murals, such as this piece depicting bright and whimsical musical instruments and notes, invites people to visit Governor’s Square in downtown Middletown at the corner of Central Avenue and Broad Street.
edge over other communities that are trying to attract new businesses, she says. “Middletown has been characterized as the ‘aerospace corridor,’ as it sits between Cincinnati and Dayton,” says Ekey. “We anticipate this being a niche for Middletown.”
DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION The city’s downtown core has seen a recent increase in new businesses, she says. “In the past three years we have been able to attract about 40 businesses to our downtown, which is a little atypical of
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The mural at the corner of Central Avenue and Verity Boulevard in downtown Middletown is a snapshot in time of the former Port of Middletown on the Miami-Erie Canal. The historic Goetz Tower is being renovated into marketrate apartments and first-floor offices. AK Steel’s $36 million Research and Innovation Center opened in Middletown in 2017.
other downtowns in similar size communities,” says Ekey. Several initiatives have factored into that growth, including the city’s Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area that allows people to buy and carry alcoholic beverages outdoors in specific areas, she says. In addition, business growth downtown can be attributed to Middletown’s recent Main Street America designation, says Ekey. Jeff Payne, executive director of Downtown Middletown Inc., says the Main Street America program helps revitalize older and historic commercial districts through preservation-based economic development. “We are really trying to promote downtown Middletown as a walking downtown,” says Payne. To promote that walkability Downtown Middletown Inc. is developing activities to bring people downtown on a consistent, regular basis, he says. Those activities have spurred more interest in opening a business in Middletown’s downtown, says Payne. “As folks have the opportunity to come down and visit and see the changes that stirs that interest,” he says. “We are seeing a trend of good solid investment being made in our downtown.”
Middletown officials hope their recently approved Downtown Master Plan continues that interest in businesses investing in downtown. The Downtown Master Plan was developed to diversify and modernized the local economy, turn the city’s liabilities into future assets and improve the city’s community image. One asset the city soon hopes to capitalize on is the rehabilitation of the historic Goetz Tower, says Ekey. The vacant office building will soon be renovated into 16 market-rate apartments and first-floor offices, she says. “That will be a major launch into residential living in downtown,” says Ekey. Other development projects are expected to follow closely behind the Goetz Tower redevelopment, she says.
ECONOMIC WINS Recent developments that have already been completed include the Middletown Energy Center on Cincinnati-Dayton Road and the Kettering Health Network Middletown medical facility on state Route 122, just southeast of Interstate 75. Construction of the Middletown Energy Center, a 475-megawatt natural gas electric generating facility, created 300-400
jobs while it was being built, says Ekey. About 30 permanent jobs have been created since the facility, which is expected to supply the power needs of approximately 400,000 homes, became operational, she says. The 65,000-square-foot Kettering Health Network Middletown medical facility includes a full-service emergency department, outpatient lab and imaging services and a medical office building for physician practices, says Ekey. The $32 million project was built on property at the city’s “front door,” she says. “They’ve done a beautiful job with it.” In addition, the Kettering Health Network Middletown facility has brought more jobs and an increased tax base to Middletown. The new facility has created about 130 new jobs, says Ekey, “which is exciting for us.” Despite the city’s fair share of economic challenges the forecast for the future looks bright. “I think our profile within the region has been greatly raised by some of our efforts,” she says. “And people in Dayton and Cincinnati are sort of saying, ‘Hey, they’re doing something right because they’re growing.’” n MI D D L E TO WN • 2 0 1 9 – 2 0 2 0
Schools and colleges offer plenty of budget-minded options for advanced learning BY SCOTT UNGER The Middletown branch campus of Cincinnati State offers more than 19 associate’s degrees and 15 certificate programs.
or a city of 50,000 people, Middletown has a wealth of education opportunities, with two regional college campuses, a vocational school and a newly renovated, state-of-the-art high school. Fresh off a $96 million construction and renovation project that created a new middle school and upgraded the high school, the new 7-12 grade Middletown City Schools campus opened in September to an estimated 6,300 students. Although construction continues on an outdoor track and multipurpose field, the schools are complete and feature an array of options and advantages for students of every kind. The high school’s interior combines elements of the past such as statues and chandeliers from the historic former school with new features such as breakout rooms, a learning café and an emphasis on natural lighting, exemplifying the district’s “Middie modernization movement.” “The city of Middletown boasts a bright past and brighter future and we want to be part of that,” says communications specialist Elizabeth Beadle. “That’s what the Middie modernization movement is all about.” The school emphasizes STEAM (sci6
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ence, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) learning and gives students the opportunity to embrace technology through classes like an augmented and virtual reality course. Students engage in computer coding, making programs that are then installed into VR headsets and enjoyed by fellow students. So far the students have surprised the teachers, completing six weeks of curriculum in just three weeks. “That’s how fast they’ve plowed ahead,” Beadle says. Students pursuing the arts also have a variety of choices, with a new theater and band, orchestra and show choir rooms. The campus has three gymnasiums, including the 2,200-seat Wade E. Miller arena, which features all the bells and whistles of a college facility. Four large LED video scoreboards, a sound system, walking track, weight room, wrestling room, offices and a conference room surround the professional style court named after Middletown alumnus and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas. Although the schools have only been a short time the impact of the project has been felt immediately in the community and especially among the students, Beadle says.
Miami University Middletown Campus recently introduced a single tuition rate for all four years.
“You can feel that culture shift, they’re proud to be here. To know that we’re investing in them fills them with a lot of pride.” Once students graduate from high school they have the opportunity to pursue higher education at affordable rates right in their back yard at the Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and Miami University regional campuses. Miami University Middletown Campus recently introduced a single tuition rate for all four years, giving students the ability to earn a Miami University degree at a lower rate than the main Oxford campus, according to Regional Dean Cathy Bishop-Clark.
Cincinnati State emphasizes career coaching by putting incoming students through an aptitude test that points them to their area of interest.
At approximately one-third of the cost of in-state tuition at main campus, students can pursue 18 different bachelor’s degrees while staying close to home and saving money. “This is a Miami degree, there’s no qualifications about that,” Bishop-Clark says. “It’s a steal.” The Miami University Middletown Campus is expanding on its bachelor’s offerings as well, with a biological sciences major pending state approval and several other options being explored. New majors are chosen based on demand at the national, state and regional levels, as Miami employees work closely with advisory boards and area chambers of commerce. The campus is also following the trend of offering online courses, with approximately 30 percent of courses available online, including some entire degree paths. The staff works hard to create an online community and provide professor access to students throughout the learning process and online learning provides an opportunity to those who don’t have time to make it to day or evening classes on campus, Bishop-Clark says. “Some students have got families, they’ve got work. Online learning, for some people, it’s just a much more convenient way to fulfill a high quality Miami education.” In order to get students on the right path, the campus is creating a career services facility inside Logan T. Johnston Hall that will include expanded mentoring and advising services for incoming students.
ABOVE AND LEFT: The new 7-12 grade Middletown City Schools campus opened in September 2018 featuring an array of options and advantages for the estimated 6,300 students.
“Most students get their jobs through networking and other job experiences,” Bishop-Clark says. “We want you walking in the door as a freshman thinking about your career.” Another career-oriented option for Middletown residents resides in the onebuilding branch campus of Cincinnati State. Started in 2012, the Middletown campus offers 19 associate’s degrees and 15 certificate programs. While some students complete their certificates or associates degrees entirely in Middletown, most transition to Cincinnati State’s Clifton campus or use it as a starting point when pursuing a four-year degree at another university, according to Campus Director Mimi Summers. “We’re small so we know people by name. They feel really comfortable. Sometimes people aren’t ready to step onto a 10,000-person campus,” Summers says. “It bridges the gap to a bigger more hectic college environment.” Because of the transitional nature of the campus, Cincinnati State emphasizes career coaching by putting incoming students through an aptitude test that points
them to their area of interest, then shows students regional salary information for specific careers and links to hiring websites to give a feel for job demand. “We want to make sure that they’re not signing up to be an EMT and they don’t like the sight of blood. We do career coaching on the front end and make sure they’re getting into a pathway that makes sense for them,” Summers says. Experiential and cooperative learning is another hallmark of the campus, which utilizes partnerships throughout Butler County to link students with co-ops and internships to give them a leg up in the job market upon graduation. “You learn so much through a textbook but you have to have the practical application,” Summers says. “A lot of times people have trouble getting their first job because they have no experience and here they’re coming out with an associate degree or a certificate and they have the real-world experience that goes along with the book learning.” The school also has a strong relationship with teen and adult education vocational school Butler Tech, which guides many students to the Cincinnati State campus. n MI D D L E TO WN • 2 0 1 9 – 2 0 2 0
Several of the region’s largest employers are working to keep up with the growth of the city
Growing Together BY CORINNE MINARD
Kettering Health Network Middletown opened in August 2018 and employs 110 people.
usinesses choose a city or region for many reasons, from transportation and talent to affordability and local government. For the companies that call Middletown home it’s the people and the community that make all the difference. “Everybody kind of knows each other and cares about each other. That’s what makes (Middletown) special and I’ve been honored to begin to get to know and begin to be a part of that family atmosphere. It’s just a really awesome community,” says Daniel Tryon, executive director and administrator of Kettering Health Network Middletown. Because of this, three of the city’s employers recently have double-downed on Middletown and remain committed to both staying and growing.
COMMITTED TO THE REGION Premier Health’s Atrium Medical Center has a long history in Middletown—it was initially opened in 1917 as Middletown Hospital. Opened as a 28-bed facility close to downtown, it is now a 328-bed licensed full-service community hospital near Interstate 75. Atrium employs about 1,400 people on its Middletown campus, including full-time, part-time and support staff. 8
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“One of the main reasons that we built a new hospital (in 2007) was because the old hospital was landlocked and it couldn’t continue to grow with the growth within the community,” says Mike Uhl, president of Atrium Medical Center. Premier considered moving out of Middletown when it was time to expand, but it instead committed itself to keeping the hospital within the city limits, thus honoring Atrium’s heritage in the community and its promise to continue to provide services in the region. “When we talk to local residents and business leaders they’ll just talk about the pride that surrounds, ‘We have our own hospital,’” says Uhl. “That makes it very viable for us to continue to expend services here and grow in the market.” Uhl says that Premier continues to see growth at Atrium, thanks in part to the location of Middletown. “As we step back and look at all the growth that is occurring between the Cincinnati and Dayton market we’re really excited about where Middletown sits and where Atrium Medical Center sits as well,” he says. “We feel we are well positioned to help serve the future needs of the community as the CincinnatiDayton corridor comes together.” Atrium Medical Center’s growth has con-
tinued with the additions of new programs and services for the Middletown community, such as its senior-friendly emergency department, Natural Beginnings water birth program and a dedicated ortho-spine unit. “Middletown is really primed for growth. There are a lot of good initiatives on the horizon to revitalize the city, make it more vibrant, and we are so well positioned on the Cincinnati-Dayton corridor,” he says. “There’s a lot of potential here and I think we’re going to see great movement in the upcoming years around that.”
A NEW HOME Kettering Health Network also has recognized the growth and potential of Middletown. The health network opened the 65,000-square-foot Kettering Health Network Middletown in August 2018 to serve the expanding community. “We’re always looking to expand and to grow. A lot of that is done from listening to the community, evaluating the needs the community has and just kind of considering how to expand, when to expand, what’s needed, and where to expand, too. Population is constantly growing and shifting and we’re trying to react to what the needs of the community are,” says Tryon. While the Middletown facility is relatively
LEFT: The AK Steel Research and Innovation Center opened in 2017. ABOVE: AK Steel CEO Roger K. Newport and AK Steel President and COO Kirk W. Reich
new and employs 110 people, Kettering has impacted the city for many years, as it has both patients and employees who live there. “We have facilities all across the community—we employ over 800 residents of Middletown and the immediate community,” says Tryon. With the new facility, Kettering hopes to cement its place in the community and further invest in Middletown. Kettering Health Network Middletown, for example, has an emergency department, imaging services, cardiac testing services and physician’s offices in a variety of specialties, and Tryon sees potential for more growth in the future. “I’ve been really impressed by how collaborative and open-minded and just the partnerships. I think it starts with city leadership and city staff, their willingness to be partners with different organizations in the community. I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with the chamber and I think the
chamber does a phenomenal job of helping to connect the different businesses,” he says. “It’s been really welcoming and Kettering has been really committed to coming in and working to just be a genuinely impactful member of the community and it’s been great to get connected with a lot of local business owners and business leaders.”
A MIDDLETOWN TRADITION AK Steel has been an important part of the Middletown community since 1899 when it first opened as The American Rolling Mill Company. Today, AK Steel employs 9,200 people at its manufacturing facilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico—2,400 of which are employed in Butler County across its AK Steel Middletown Works steel operations, its new Middletown Research and Innovation Center and its headquarters in West Chester. What hasn’t changed is its commitment to the city.
“Middletown is not only where our company was founded it is also the home to many generations of AK Steel employees, and new employees who have moved to the area to work at our Middletown Works, and our Research and Innovation Center. We are proud of our heritage, and give back to the community through nonprofit support and thousands of hours of volunteer support through our employees,” says Lisa Jester, corporate manager of communications and public relations for AK Steel. The Research and Innovation Center, for example, reflects a $36 million investment in the area. Opened in spring 2017, the center has allowed AK Steel to bring new products to market, such as advanced high-strength steels, high-efficiency electrical steels and new stainless steels. In addition, AK Steel has committed itself to helping train the workforce of tomorrow. In October 2018 AK Steel announced a joint apprenticeship program with IAM Local Lodge 1943 at Middletown Works, which includes 18 months of onsite classroom and on-the-job training in various maintenance skills. “Now more than ever, it’s an exciting time to be part of the collaborative work that the Middletown City Council and Economic Development, Middletown Schools, The Chamber of Commerce and many nonprofit organizations are leading to meet the diverse opportunities for our community to continue to grow Middletown as a great place to live and work,” Jester says. n MI D D L E TO WN • 2 0 1 9 – 2 0 2 0
Workforce Connection Regional transportation plan to connect workers with jobs in Middletown BY MADISON RODGERS
iddletown launched a regional public transportation initiative with the city of Monroe, Atrium Medical Center and Butler County Regional Transit Authority to close the workforce gap between Dayton and Cincinnati. “The WorkLink transit service is provided by Butler County RTA and is the first part of our efforts to improve access to jobs for residents and potential employees,” says Jennifer Patterson, assistant to the Monroe city manager. Jennifer Ekey, economic development director for the city of Middletown, says, “What we’ve done is partnered with them to link the south Dayton metro hub with the northern Cincinnati SORTA stop.” This initiative has been in the making for quite some time. “We started conversations about transit solutions with the city of Middletown nearly two years ago,” says Patterson. “Both communities recognized that a regional job shuttle had the potential to support our growing businesses and the 10
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The WorkLink bus route—a joint effort between the city of Middletown, Atrium Medical Center, city of Monroe and the Butler County Regional Transit Authority—will connect people within the region to available jobs.
communities had a history of working well together on previous projects, so it was a natural fit.” The cities hope that this will improve workforce issues. “Reliable and costeffective transportation can be a barrier to employment for many people,” says Patterson. “Our goal when the partners launched WorkLink was to remove that barrier and connect potential employees with a job that is right for them in one of our employment hubs.” This shuttle is the first transportation link between Cincinnati and Dayton. “The two MSAs are growing together and connectivity is becoming increasingly important on a regional level,” says Patterson. “As we look at new technology and innovation that is occurring in the mass transit industry it’s exciting to think about how this project can continue to evolve.” The WorkLink transit service consists of eight stops and is $2 per ride. A month-
ly pass can be bought for $40. An adult must accompany all children under the age of 12. Miami University students may ride free with a valid student ID. Discounts are available for the elderly and disabled. “We are excited about it because we have a lot of unfilled jobs that if we can get people working and productive it’s good for our tax base and it’s good for those families who might not otherwise be able to get to work,” says Ekey. This initiative is also working with the Cincinnati Mobility Lab and Uber for businesses “first mile/last mile” services and additional transportation solutions to maximize the impact of the WorkLink shuttle. Middletown has had a partnership with Butler County RTA for more than five years, operating the Middletown Transit Services, that connect residents within the city limits and nearby communities. For a list of route and stops, please visit butlercountyrta.com/worklink. n
Exhilarating Encounters Await Middletown invites visitors to experience breathtaking surprises BY BETH LANGEFELS
The annual Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival in Middletown includes a hot air balloon competition, outdoor concerts, food vendors, arts & crafts and carnival rides.
ave you been to Middletown lately? Visitors may be surprised to learn that this community of about 50,000 is undergoing a major transformation. According to Mary Huttlinger, executive director of the Middletown Visitors Bureau, Middletown has become a community full of exhilarating encounters that will delight any visitor, especially those searching for breathtaking surprises and unpredictable experiences. “When I jumped on board the community was going through an aggressive revitalization,” Huttlinger says. “We are seeing businesses all working together to bring new life into the downtown area.” Huttlinger says the city is now realizing the fruits of this effort thanks to the passion and hard work of everyone involved. “The first couple of months in the job I had no idea there was so much going on here,” Huttlinger says. Visitors are invited to catch some “airtime” with the clouds by taking a hot air balloon ride during the annual Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival, which takes place each July. And with the No. 1 skydiving drop zone in the world located here thrill seekers will not be disappointed. “Also in July we have the Aeronca Flyin where folks can take flight in a custom
airplane,” Huttlinger says. The historic Great Miami River flows through the area, so there are opportunities to experience the rush of the river in kayaks or canoes or enjoy bike cruises along the riverway. “What better adventure is there than to hear the rush of the river, feel the sun on your face and hear the migratory birds singing?” Huttlinger says. For those who prefer physical competition on the ground and out of the water, Middletown, also known as the “Pickleball Capital of Ohio,” hosts an annual Pickleball tournament in the spring. Middletown is also home to the Great Miami Spring Triathlon, the Spring Blast Soccer Tournament, the MidFest Fall Soccer Tournament and the Lacrosse Steel City Shootout. “If you like the rev of an engine or the shine of a polished car then Middletown’s Thunderfest is for you,” Huttlinger says. “This event brings hundreds of classic vehicles to Middletown to compete for 25 awards. Earplugs are highly recommended!” With a plethora of events throughout the year, Middletown is quickly becoming a destination city. Each August, “Hops in the Hangar” features 30 craft beer vendors, a flying stunt air show and a breathtaking skydiving show. And the very popular “Women’s Wine and Chocolate Walk,” con-
Hops in the Hangar is a blend of craft beer fans and aviation enthusiasts in an airplane hangar at the Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field.
ducted in the spring, sells out every year. “Adrenaline rushes aren’t just for the outdoors,” Huttlinger says. “Middletown offers a variety of indoor experiences that titillate the mind and spiritual well-being.” These include the Middletown Arts Center, offering 45 different art classes, the historic Sorg Opera House and the BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studios where glass artistry has been practiced since the early 1800s. Middletown has a variety of surprising food and drink venues too, including Bourbon’s Kitchen, Combs BBQ—voted the best in the state of Ohio—and West Central Wine, featuring wine from around the world. For more information, visit facebook. com/middletownvb. n MI D D L E TO WN • 2 0 1 9 – 2 0 2 0
Down By the River
Relax and Have Fun The Great Miami River Recreational Trail offers good times and great memories BY TIM WALKER ABOVE: The Great Miami River Recreational Trail offers opportunities galore for visitors to stroll, ride a bike, relax and enjoy a pleasant time along the Great Miami River. RIGHT: The new River Center at 120 Carmody Blvd. includes drinking water, restrooms and reservable meeting space.
he Great Miami Recreational River Trail should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for a little relaxation and a wealth of fun and leisure time activities in the Middletown area. An ideal destination spot for sports enthusiasts, Ohio nature lovers and anyone looking for a little hard-to-find peace of mind, the local river trail offers opportunities galore for visitors to stroll, relax and just enjoy a pleasant evening with family or friends. “There’s something for every member of the family,” says Angela Manuszak, special projects coordinator at the Miami Conservancy District, which operates in southwest Ohio and manages the Great Miami and its tributaries. “The adventurer can paddle the Great Miami thanks to a couple of good access points. The cyclist has eight miles of riverfront trail in Middletown to explore—soon to be fully connected to the 340 miles of paved trail in southwest Ohio. The art lover can drop by Pendleton Art Center and the historian can visit the Canal Museum and any number 12
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of historic buildings. Concerts, breweries, shopping—and don’t miss Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop.” In August of 2018 the city of Middletown, in conjunction with MetroParks of Butler County, used a $1 million grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to open the new $1.4 million MetroParks River Center in Bicentennial Commons. Middletown’s Recreational River Trail area has become a popular spot for local residents and out-of-town visitors, with a variety of activities and special events regularly drawing spectators from all over the Miami Valley and the Buckeye state. The idea for the Great Miami Riverway itself first bloomed in 2008 when the first River Summit was held at the University of Dayton, bringing together a group of community leaders who were focused on attracting new visitors, supporting economic development and strengthening the existing Great Miami River corridor neighborhoods. As a result, in 2014 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to complete its largest river asset
inventory project to that date. Nineteen riverfront communities and organizations formed the Great Miami Riverway Coalition in 2017, and that coalition is responsible for promoting the area and overseeing and implementing future development plans for the corridor. The trails and river attractions along the Great Miami Riverway are always free and open to visitors of all ages, and the Great Miami Riverway website offers great resources for the public, such as a trip planner, events calendar and all the information visitors need to enjoy a weekend—or longer—stays along the riverway. When completed, the riverway itself will connect a total of 99 miles of communities and projects stretching along the Great Miami River, from Sidney in the north to Hamilton in the south. With mile after mile of interconnected bike paths, paved trails and water activities there’s no doubt that the Great Miami Recreational River Trail will continue to draw residents and visitors for years to come. n
Tantalizing Taste Buds
A Foodie’s Delight Guide to Middletown’s unique and popular dining options BY GINNY MCCABE
iddletown’s dining scene offers a variety of delicious options from standards like The Jug, Stefano’s Italian Café and The Meadows to newer establishments like Gracie’s, Bourbon’s Craft Kitchen & Bar, Combs BBQ, West Central Wine and Blast Furnace Pizza. Locals also brag about many of the neighborhood hangouts, such as Mockingbird’s Café, The Slice, Central Market & Deli as well as Murphy’s Landing Seafood & Steakhouse. Area foodies as well as guests from across the globe have created a national buzz by stopping in at two of the oldest, most historic shops on the Butler County Donut Trail while passing through Middletown—Milton’s Donuts and Central Pastry Shop. “We started the Donut Trail in January of 2016, so it’s been about two-and-ahalf years. Since that time, we’ve had over 16,000 people finish it from all 50 states
Central Pastry Shop in downtown Middletown has been making pastries and cakes since 1949.
There are plenty of delicious dining options in Middletown.
and 21 countries,” says Tracy Kocher, director of marketing, Butler County Visitors Bureau. When it comes to dining, Gracie’s is an example of a Middletown restaurant that has gained widespread popularity since it opened just over a year ago. The independently owned restaurant makes everything from scratch and specializes in “Big City Comfort Food.” “We really try to elevate the level of din-
ing in terms of the food and the service that you’re going to get at Gracie’s, but at the same time we’re still a neighborhood restaurant where you can come on a Tuesday with your girlfriends or your family and get a bite to eat,” says Ami Vitori Kimener, owner of Gracie’s. So, whether you want to try something new, or check out an old favorite, there’s plenty of options to discover from fast food to fine dining. n
BLAST FURNACE PIZZA: 1126 Central Ave., (513) 438-1919, blastfurnacepizza.com.
MURPHY’S LANDING: 6 S. Broad St., (513) 649-8867, murphys-landing.com.
BOURBON’S CRAFT KITCHEN & BAR: 2231 N. Verity Parkway, (513) 217-0099, bourbonskitchen.com.
ROLLING MILL BREWING CO.: 916 First Ave., (513) 217-4444, rollingmillbc.com
CENTRAL PASTRY SHOP: 1518 Central Ave., (513) 423-4431, centralpastry.com.
THE SPINNING FORK: 32229 N. Verity Parkway, (513) 649-8201, facebook.com/spinningfork.middletown.
COMBS BBQ: 2223 Central Ave., (513) 849-2110, facebook.com\combsbbq.
STEFANO’S ITALIAN CAFÉ: 2200 Central Ave., (513) 422-9922, stefanositaliancafe.com.
FIG LEAF BREWING CO.: 3387 Cincinnati-Dayton Road, (513) 773-1930, figleafbrewing.com
STRAIGHT SHOT COFFEE CO.: 6589 Terhune Drive, (513) 518-7187, sshotcoffee.com.
GRACIE’S: 1131 Central Ave., (513) 915-7476, graciesmiddletown.com.
THE JUG: 3610 Central Ave., (513) 424-1677, facebook.com/the-jug.
JAVA JOHNNY’S: 3534 Central Ave., (513) 727-9722, javajohnnys.com.
TRIPLE MOON COFFEE CO.: 1100 Central Ave., (513) 849-2220, facebook.com/triplemooncoffee.
MILTON’S DONUTS: 3533 Roosevelt Blvd., (513) 422-8612, facebook.com/miltonsdonuts.
WEST CENTRAL WINE: 1120 Central Ave., (513) 594-1036, westcentralwine.com. MI D D L E TO WN • 2 0 1 9 – 2 0 2 0
Keep calm and get your art on Downtown Middletown’s revitalization fueled by the arts
Universal Appeal BY VAL BEERBOWER
rts and culture provide more than a vibrant community for Middletown residents; they’re a wellspring for economic progression in the river city equidistant from Cincinnati and Dayton. According to information provided by the Butler County Visitor’s Bureau, tourism contributed about $1.1 billion in business activity, generating $26.7 million in taxes that support programs throughout the county. Not only does Middletown attract its fair share of visitors through its arts destinations, it has helped jump-start revitalization efforts in the center city. How does art create such a significant impact? One theory is its universal appeal. “Art is for everybody; everyone has some artistic talent. Everyone has creativity inside them,” says Middletown Arts Center Executive Director Betsy Hope. “It feels good to be creative. It’s therapeutic, calming, fun, social and something everyone has a right to try and experience.” People in Middletown have gravitated toward the arts for more than a century. The oldest documented continuously operating stained glass studio in the United States began life as Coulter and Finagin’s in 1840 before becoming G.C. Riordan & Co. In 1983, the studio merged with BeauVerre Studios, and today, BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studios offers custom designs and restoration services for residential and commercial glass art, as well as classes and workshops for those who wish to discover the craft. Putting artists to work produces gains beyond the studios. Middletown is enjoying a resurgence in its downtown area, bolstered by arts activities. This trend has played out in favor of urban renewal in other cities, as well. In Cincinnati, the 14
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TOP: Arts and culture provides a vibrant community for Middletown residents. ABOVE: Musical entertainment helps bring visitors to downtown Middletown. LEFT: BeauVerre Riordan Stained Glass Studios creates custom-designed stained glass windows.
Pendleton Arts Center watched development swirl around its doors in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood; Pendleton’s Middletown campus has a similar view. Pendleton offers work space for artists and makers of all kinds. When native Suzanne Sizer, marketing director for Pendleton’s parent Verdin Co., first returned to Middletown she could see the potential. “I knew that Middletown had this long history in the arts,” she says. “Both the (Cincinnati) and Middletown locations have seen dramatic changes in the area around them.” Sizer says she’s watched creative startups expand out of their booths and grow into independent small businesses. Middletown Arts Center is expanding beyond its own walls, connecting people with local artists regardless of where they may be. Hope says the Middletown Arts
Center has collaborated with governmental organizations and now has artwork on display in City Hall and the new River Center, developed along the bikeways in the heart of Middletown in conjunction with the Butler County Metro Park system. The Middletown Arts Center also offers outreach programming to at-risk youth and at community centers in under-served neighborhoods. “We’re trying to reach new audiences and invite more people into the art center as Middletown grows,” Hope says. Visitors to downtown Middletown can’t go wrong if they hit the city on a First Friday event. Themed programming brightens each corner and artists open their doors to the public. The annual Arts Festival recently celebrated its fifth year, traditionally taking place after Labor Day. “There’s a revitalization happening in Middletown,” Hope says. “You’ll see art is a big part of that.” n
The Middletown Historical Society’s Canal Museum, 120 N. Verity Parkway, was built in 1982 as a replica of a lock tender’s house on the Miami-Erie Canal. It is open on Sundays from 2-4 p.m. during the spring, summer and fall.
The Downtown Middletown Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) District, Ohio’s first designated outdoor refreshment area that allows people to buy a beverage from a liquor permit establishment within the DORA boundaries and walk around with that drink, is in operation from 12 p.m. to midnight seven days a week.
From 5-9 p.m. on the First Friday of every month is when downtown Middletown neighborhood businesses, boutiques, eateries and galleries keep their doors open late.
The annual Ohio Challenge Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place each July in Middletown that includes a night balloon glow.
Middletown has plenty to of fer during the holiday season.
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Middletown Regional Airport features the longest runway of any non-towered airport in southwest Ohio.