Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith is out to change people’s opinion of Butler County’s largest city, dubbed the “City of Sculpture” for its extensive collection of outdoor art, one visitor at a time, if necessary.

When someone questions the city’s future, he hands him or her his business card and asks the person to visit.

“I want you to come to Hamilton. I’ll buy you lunch or dinner and give you a personal tour,” says Smith, who was named city manager in 2010. When they come: “They’re stunned. The challenge is to get them to come, and see what’s happening.”

What’s happening is that this 223-year-old industrial city, with a history of art and architecture, is undergoing a renaissance.

“I think Hamilton is doing a great job of reinventing itself,” says Kenny Craig, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. “It already has a lot of the infrastructure that other communities are trying to build. We don’t have to; it’s already here.”

More than $130 million in public and private money has been invested in the city since 2010 and more is on the horizon.

Among the notable projects:

--Artspace Hamilton, a $10 million mixed-use residential project in the former H. Strauss building on High Street, opens next spring with 42 artist loft apartments and ground-floor commercial space.

--Mercantile Lofts, a 139-year-old building once facing condemnation, underwent an $8.6 million renovation two years ago creating street-level commercial space and 29 market-rate apartments that are fully leased with a waiting list.

--Community First Solutions, a nonprofit providing health and wellness services and one of the city’s largest employers, is renovating the six-story former Riegel’s Furniture store on South Third Street as its new corporate office and training center.

The city, once the home to one of the nation’s largest paper companies, the largest safe company and one of the biggest machine tool builders, is seeing a job growth among a new generation of manufacturers. ThyssenKrupp Bilstein, a maker of automotive shocks, announced in July its third expansion in recent years—a $25 million project that will add 200 jobs.

iMFLUX, a new P&G subsidiary to create more energy-efficient plastic containers, announced last year it was investing $50 million in the former Hamilton Fixture plant on Symmes Road, creating 220 jobs.

Next spring, the city will begin receiving low-cost electricity from the largest hydroelectric plant on the Ohio River at the Meldahl Dam. Hamilton, which has a history of power generation from the Great Miami River, teamed with American Municipal Power on the $500 million hydro project. Nearly three-fourths of Hamilton’s electricity will come from renewable sources when the plant begins operation.

The city is focusing on clean and alternative energy in other ways. It is building the area’s first public compressed natural gas fueling station, offering lower cost fuel for city vehicles and the public.

Its decade-old business incubator in July rebranded itself as The Mill—recalling the city’s industrial past—and refocused its mission on emerging markets such as water technology, advanced manufacturing and information technology.

To engage residents in all of the city’sneighborhoods, the city has launched its 17 Strong Neighborhoods initiative to focus those communities on projects important to them.

And as part of Butler County’s Land Bank program, supported by state funds, the city has demolished more than 130 blighted buildings in the last decade.

It’s a dramatic change from just five years ago, when the city’s only downtown hotel, the Hamiltonian, was in danger of shutting down. At the urging of a number of community leaders, the Hamilton Community Foundation stepped forward to invest $6.5 million to support renovation and rebranding the 120-room hotel as a Courtyard by Marriott by a private developer.

“It was certainly a departure from what we usually did,” says John Guidugli, president and CEO of the 63-year-old community foundation.

But he says the foundation felt a first-class hotel was critical to the city’s future not just as a place to stay but also as a place for community meetings and events.

“When you look at what happens to a community without that kind of facility, it’s not very positive,” he says.

The success of the hotel redevelopment led to the creation two years ago of the Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts, or CORE, a $6.2 million public-private redevelopment nonprofit funded by the foundation, the city and First Financial and USBank.

The CORE Fund, just one tool in the city’s redevelopment tool kit, has hit the ground running committing more than $4 million to buy four vacant downtown buildings including the former Elder-Beerman department store on High Street and preparing them for redevelopment.

“Some people say we have too many balls in the air, and no control on what we’re doing,” says Mike Dingeldein, CORE’s executive director. “I say just the opposite. We have a lot of balls in the air, and that’s how we’re hitting singles and doubles and having success. We’re not trying to swing for the fences every time.”

One example was the former Hungry Bunny restaurant building on the corner of High and Third Streets. The old three-story building was in need of repair like a lot of downtown buildings. CORE bought the building a year ago, restored it and lured Sara’s House, a home décor shop specializing in repurposed items, to the first-floor retail space in May.

Owner Sara Vallandingham, who moved from the Bridgewater Falls shopping, says the downtown location has exceeded her expectations.

“Bridgewater was a beautiful shopping center, but this is so great,” she says. “We have more traffic here and our sales are consistently higher.”

A decade ago, Dingeldein, a Hamilton native and architect, says, “we were managing decline and losing our tax base.”

But the election of a new group of City Council members “has changed the conversation,” he says. City Council hired Smith, a proactive executive “with an all-hands-on-deck approach,” who isn’t afraid to try new approaches, says Dingeldein.

The proof that Hamilton’s resurgence is gaining traction, he says, is that developers are looking at projects in the city without the assistance of the CORE Fund.

For example, the salvage company that bought the former Champion Paper mill on the west bank of the Great Miami River has hired Sports Facilities Advisory, a Florida-based operator of the largest indoor sports complex in the country, to do a feasibility study of converting the 42-acre site into a $30 million complex for amateur baseball, soccer, basketball and other sports.

“We have a lot of groups and individuals working together now,” says Guidugli. “Working collaboratively has made a difference. The city is at the table with the chamber, the foundation and other businesses and everybody’s moving in the same direction. We have a good city council and a very effective, enthusiastic city manager and they’re taking advantage of opportunities as they come along and looking for others.”