Best Hometowns 2013–2014: Loveland
Loveland boasts excellent schools and new downtown development.
Year founded: 1876
Location: The intersection of Hamilton, Clermont and Warren counties, 23 miles north of Cincinnati
Size: 5 square miles
Local Flavor: Loveland’s mayor is asked to preside over about 40 weddings a year by couples who want to be married in the town known as “Valentine City” and “Sweetheart of Ohio.”
Shawn and Chandra Custis have an eye for places with promise. He’s a mortgage broker by profession, and the couple owns various commercial and residential properties around Cincinnati.
They moved to Loveland nearly 15 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2004 that they set their sights on the former West Loveland Elementary School. Built in the 1800s, the building was renovated for the Clifton Shirt Factory in 1948 before the business went dormant in 2001.
It wasn’t in great condition or located in a spot prime for redevelopment, but the Custises bought the building anyway. The couple hoped to turn the property into an antique mall, but first they rented a portion of it to glass and metals artist Mary Karg. That decision changed everything.
“After [Mary] opened her space, we started hearing from other artists,” recalls Shawn Custis. "[They were asking], ‘hey, can I have one too?’ ”
Plans for an antique mall were quickly revised, and the couple opened Loveland Art Studios on Main in 2005. The former school now houses studio space for 42 artists, and around half of them live in town. “Loveland is becoming a bedroom community for artists,” says Shawn Custis. “They aren’t just bringing their studios here; they’re moving here for their art.”
The influx of artists is just one of the changes Loveland has seen over the past decade or so, but the community has always had a lot going for it. About 30 minutes north of Cincinnati, with easy access to I-71 and I-275, it’s an ideal home for commuters. The Little Miami State and National Scenic River runs through town, with plenty of spaces to skip rocks, canoe or have a riverside picnic. Loveland is also one of the more lively stops along the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail, which runs 75 miles from Springfield to Newtown.
“We have a real balance of small-community feel with growth and development,” explains Mayor Robert Weisgerber, a 30-year resident.
About 15 years ago, Loveland’s city council set out to do more to capitalize on its historic downtown. Filled with buildings built in the 1800s when Loveland was a stop on the Little Miami Railroad, the area had become dominated with what Weisgerber refers to as “junktique” shops.
In order to recreate a slower, small-town feel, city council took the road that runs through downtown from four lanes to two. They also reduced on-street parking in favor of bumping out the sidewalks to create outdoor seating for downtown restaurants.
The plan worked — the bike trail crossing is easier to navigate, patios at Tano and Paxton’s Grill are full on summer afternoons and evenings, and little shops such as Loveland Sweets are cropping up nearby.
“We have 100 percent occupancy downtown now,” says Weisgerber. “The restaurants, shops, live music — everything has come together.”
That has translated into new residential development and an increasingly affluent population; Median household income is nearly $75,000, and a recent search of available homes with Loveland addresses revealed 54 properties listed at $500,000 or more. Loveland City Schools have consistently earned “excellent” or “excellent with distinction” rankings from the state over the last decade and have a 94 percent graduation rate.
Loveland will soon break ground on River Trail Flats, a new mixed-use development in the historic downtown, which will add additional retail and apartment living to the area. The city is also working on plans for new residential housing for seniors nearby.
“This used to be a resort community along the railroad, and that feel is coming back,” says Weisgerber. “People want to be here.”