Episode #45: Cincinnati’s Tech Scene

Recording The UrbanCincy Podcast #45On the 45th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, I’m joined by Alex Bowman and Chris Moore to discuss the technology scene in Cincinnati.

We discuss the role of organizations like CincyTech and Cintrifuse, efforts like QCMerge and HackCincy, and physical coworking spaces and hackerspaces play a role in developing our local tech community. Alex explains how a strong urban core is critical to attracting and retaining the talent startups need, and Chris talks about Gaslight‘s move from Blue Ash to Downtown Cincinnati.

I ask whether tech companies should become involved with local political issues, in response to Chris Moore’s Open Letter to Cincinnati City Council published in December 2013, and we discuss the need for more regional thinking instead of a downtown-vs.-neighborhoods approach.

Photo by Chris Moore.

Over-the-Rhine Wins Big in Latest Round of Ohio Historic Tax Credits

The Ohio Development Services Agency divvied up its thirteenth round of historic tax credits yesterday. As has been the case in the past, Over-the-Rhine, one of the nation’s largest historic districts, was a big winner.

In addition to the mega tax credit awarded to Music Hall, five other projects in the neighborhood received tax credits through the program.

Urban Sites received two tax credits totaling $500,000 that will enable the Over-the-Rhine-based developer to restore three historic structures on Main Street and Clay Street; and create 23 apartments along with street-level retail.

Another project at 51 E. Clifton Avenue received a $147,000 tax credit that will go to help cover the costs of the $750,000 project, and ultimately create seven market-rate apartments in the 124-year-old structure.

Another big winner, in addition to Music Hall and Urban Sites, was Grandin Properties – a company that has taken an increasing interest in the neighborhood and even relocated their office to the Washington Park district in recent months.

Through the historic tax credit program, Grandin Properties will receive nearly $400,000 for their planned $1.5 million renovation of two 136-year-old buildings on Republic Street in between Thirteenth and Fourteenth. Once complete, developers say that the buildings will have 12 residential apartments.

“These projects transform vacant and underutilized properties into viable places for business and living,” said David Goodman, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, in a prepared release. “This program has been a valuable tool for community revitalization.”

State officials say that the application deadline for the next round of the Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit Program is March 31, 2015, and that approved applicants will be announced at the end of June 2015.

Local Companies to Showcase Custom-Made Products at Cincy Startup Store in Over-the-Rhine

Cincy Simple SpaceLocal startups will host a one-day product exhibition this Saturday from 10am to 10pm at 16 E. Thirteenth Street in Over-the-Rhine.

The event, called Cincy Startup Store, will take place inside a newly opened pop-up hub called Simple Space, which was funded through an Indiegogo campaign and is envisioned as a destination for short-term popups.

Kapture, an original backer of the Simple Space Indiegogo campaign, will join six other local startups for the event. Organizers hope it will be able to bring startups with tangible products together to sell their items inside the unique brick-and-mortar space not typical for many startups that focus on Internet sales.

Cincy Startup Store will also provide last-minute holiday shoppers with an opportunity to complete their shopping, while also supporting the local economy and small business startups.

In addition to Kapture and their audio-recording wristbands, PlusBlue will be selling custom-engraved mobile battery packs; Frameri will offer glasses with interchangeable frames and lenses, Artfully Disheveled will have their ties, bowties and pocket squares; Petbrosia with their custom-designed pet food; Beluga Shave Co. will be selling their single-blade razors; and GoSun Stove will be showcasing their portable solar cookers.

Organizers say that they are excited to have the small storefront space turned into a showcase of these products born in Cincinnati by Cincinnati companies. Backers of the event include Cintrifuse, CincyTech, The Brandery and HCDC.

What should take the place of the former Queensgate Correctional Facility?

Hamilton County’s former Queensgate Correctional Facility is currently on the market. The historic warehouse building has sat vacant since the jail operation was shut down six years ago. The site sits close to the Central Business District and the building evidently has tremendous views of the downtown skyline and Ohio River. A buyer has not yet been identified, so it is unclear as to what the future holds for the 152,000-square-foot complex…so what would you like to see in its place? More from the Business Courier:

The Queensgate Correctional Facility closed in 2008 due to budget cuts. It housed low- and medium-security prisoners. It sits directly west of the former Hudepohl brewery property, which the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority purchased for $650,000 in May. The Port Authority is still working on a plan for repositioning that property. The former jail property includes five buildings. The largest is an eight-story, more than 128,000-square-foot building that served as the jail. The smaller buildings served as staff services space, administration space and a recreation building.

…the property has only been on the market a few weeks and he’s already had interest from a couple developers. The building could be redeveloped as residential space, used as warehouse space, or it could potentially be used as a jail again if the county is interested in reopening it.

Streetcar Supporters to Announce Expanded Coalition Urging for System’s Expansion Uptown

AcDowntown to Uptown Cincinnati Streetcar Routecording to officials at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which governs Metro, more than 1,000 of the 1,500 Founders’ Club cards were sold within the first three days of going on sale.

The rate of sales is exceeding expectations, and many believe the remaining allotment will be sold within the next few days. In fact, $25 cards have already been taken off of Metro’s website, with a very limited number remaining at City Hall and Metro’s sales office.

The remaining $50 and $100 cards can still be purchased online, but it is not clear for how much longer due to their dwindling supply.

Streetcar supporters are pointing to this as clear evidence of the excitement surrounding the project, especially given that those buying the cards will not be able to use them until the system goes into operation in September 2016.

“Selling $72,000 worth of fare cards for a starter line that’s nearly two years from being operational shows the level of support and enthusiasm for the Cincinnati Streetcar to finally be up and running,” Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio, told UrbanCincy. “This is the definition of pent up demand.”

Of course, there is also the financial benefit. Selling all 1,500 of the cards will net Metro $72,000 in fare revenue nearly two years before the Cincinnati Streetcar goes into operation.

The news comes as Believe in Cincinnati, the grassroots coalition that formed a year ago to save the project from cancellation, has organized a press conference to announce a broad new coalition of organizations and community leaders urging for the expansion of the streetcar system to Uptown.

“While we must celebrate the success we have had over the past year with construction of tracks in the OTR loop nearing completion and the downtown loop well underway, we must also be looking forward,” explained Ryan Messer, Founder of Believe in Cincinnati.

The path forward, evidently, goes uptown, and not to Northern Kentucky even as leaders there are calling for an expansion of the system south across the Ohio River.

“As of today, we still do not have an official plan in place for our uptown expansion that will link downtown and OTR to the University of Cincinnati and the uptown neighborhoods,” Messer wrote in an email. “We are ready to ignite these conversations and be prepared to implement these plans into action.”

The growing support for an uptown expansion comes at a time of large investment occurring along the initial starter line – investment that many streetcar supporters are crediting for the $18 million budget surplus at City Hall in 2014, and the rosy tax receipt estimates for 2015.

“Imagine what the impact will be when we connect Cincinnati’s core, with its 40,000 jobs and growing residential population, to the 30,000 jobs and 40,000 students in the uptown neighborhoods,” Bauman exclaimed. “This vision is as exciting as it will be transformative for the City of Cincinnati.”

The Believe in Cincinnati press conference will be held at the corner of Race and Elder Streets, near Findlay Market, and where track stub has been constructed for the accommodation of a future uptown extension. Organizers say the event will take place at 10am and will show off the new, expanded coalition of streetcar supporters urging for its expansion.