Center Punch. Concern for downtown Hamilton began in August 1954 when construction started on the Hamilton Plaza Shopping Center on Dixie Highway (Ohio 4) between the end of Erie Highway and Laurel Avenue. Developers promised 174,000 square feet of retail space on the 25-acre site. Parking for 1,900 cars was part of the $3 million project. Hamilton City Council and planners considered radical changes to downtown Hamilton as early as 1959.
Proposals then included converting the area between Front, Fourth, Court and Market streets into a pedestrian mall. That idea would have eliminated vehicle traffic on High Street between Front and Fourth and on Second and Third streets between Court and Market streets. The early strategy was to seek an anchor department store for downtown. A plan called Center Punch combined local initiative and city development funds with a federal grant and private capital. It involved the block bordered by High, North Front, Market and North Second streets.
Local efforts began in 1961, but it wasn't until June 1964 that the city and federal agencies reached agreement on the urban renewal project. In July 1965 Arthur Beerman, who headed a Dayton-based department store, completed a contract with the city as Center Punch gained momentum. Seventeen buildings were demolished before construction could start on the $3.5 million, three-story Elder-Beerman Store. It was to include 121,650 square feet of retail space, plus 42,475 square feet for storage and offices. Before the store opened Sept. 28, 1968, Beerman acquired Wilmurs, a popular locally-owned department store. In September 1975, Hamilton opened a 555-car municipal parking garage along Market Street between North Third and North Second streets to bolster downtown stores and serve Ohio Casualty and other downtown employers. City leaders also headed off county plans to move offices outside the city. Instead, the county built its administrative center on High Street, on part of the Center Punch tract. The Butler County Administrative Center (130 High Street) -- a $2.9 million project providing 66,000 square feet of space -- was dedicated Dec. 5, 1976.
Large retail complexes developed in northern Hamilton County between 1960 and 1990 -- Tri-County Shopping Center opened in 1960, Northgate Mall emerged in 1972 and Forest Fair Mall, partly in Fairfield, opened in phases in 1988 and 1989. (See Forest Fair Mall and City Centre Mall.)