Episode #52: Kathy Holwadel of Cincyopolis

kathy.holwadel_1410620255_74On her blog Cincyopolis, Kathy Holwadel has been covering a number of interesting and important topics, including tax abatements for downtown office towers, incorrect property valuations and the Board of Revisions, and transparency at the Port Authority. She has also written series of posts titled Big Thinkers where she profiles some of the people she’s interviewed.

On the 52nd episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Travis and Kathy have a discussion about these topics and many others.

Project Officials Ready to Move Forward With Next Phase of The Banks

Officials overseeing the development of The Banks have announced that they will soon proceed with the design and construction of the infrastructure needed for the next phase of the massive riverfront project.

Yesterday, at a special meeting of The Banks Steering Committee, the eight-member group unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with what they expect to be $29.3 million worth of work, which would then provide the platform for millions more in private investment in the form of offices, residences and retail on what is referred to as Lot 24.

As has been the case with all prior phases of the mixed-use development, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will build out the utilities and roadway network, and construct a 690-space, two-level parking garage that will lift the site out of the Ohio River floodplain. Carter and The Dawson Company – the private development team selected for the project – would consider what elements should be included and then proceed with building and leasing out whatever is built on top of the parking decks.

A guiding principle that has not changed since the beginning of the development process is that the underground parking garage will be reserved for public parking, leaving Carter-Dawson to develop additional above-ground parking to satisfy the City’s mandatory parking requirements.

The Steering Committee said that the public work will be funded through the issuance of $22 million in tax increment finance bonds, and $7 million from the State of Ohio. Project officials say issuance of the bonds is expected to come within the coming months.

While the Carter-Dawson team has not yet decided the exact mix for this third phase of work, it is widely expected to be primarily residential. In total, the zoning and infrastructure for the site will allow for around 320,000 to 400,000 square feet of developable space.

The timing of the announcement could not be better, with work rapidly progressing on General Electric’s 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, 19,000 square feet of retail space, and the 291 apartments at the phase two site to the immediate north; and with the announcement that AC Hotels will develop the long-sought hotel along Main Street in front of Great American Ball Park.

Phase two work is expected to be completed in phases throughout 2016, while AC Hotel by Marriott is expected to open in spring 2017.

While management with the Cincinnati Bengals expressed some concern over the loss of one of the team’s few remaining tailgating lots, The Banks itself is evolving into more of an entertainment district than many had thought.

In April, state officials approved a new open-container district law that will soon be in place at The Banks; and yesterday, in a separate move, the Cincinnati Reds applied for a zoning variance to allow for the installation of a video board that will overlook Freedom Way – providing live video programming when the surrounding streets are shut down to cars for special events. Such moves could render tailgating lots obsolete as fans move to the streets on game days.

Project officials say the phasing of construction at the 18-acre site has been carefully coordinated between the district’s various stakeholders, along with the construction schedule of Smale Riverfront Park. As park work has moved west so has work at The Banks, and with the latest work on the park taking place just south of phase three of The Banks, the timing makes perfect sense.

If all goes according to plan, this next phase of infrastructure work could begin as soon as January or February – just after the conclusion of the Bengals football season.

Walking tour to give historical perspective on Cincinnati’s urban core

maxresdefaultMax Grinnell is an author, historian, and a professor who is experienced at sharing unique perspectives of American cities. He has given a number of talks and led walking tours in cities across the country, focused on urban innovation, public art, and travel. Next week, he will be coming to Cincinnati to give us a look at the city from a historical perspective.

Grinnell’s tour will be based on Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, a book published in 1943 for the Federal Writers’ Project. It is a part of the American Guide Series, also known as the WPA guides, a program funded by the New Deal to employ writers during the Great Depression. Today, it serves as a snapshot of 1943 Cincinnati, when the city’s population was 455,610 and now-iconic structures like Carew Tower and Union Terminal were just a decade old.

UrbanCincy was able to ask Grinnell a few questions about why he was inspired to come to Cincinnati for this event.


UC: You’ve given walking tours of many other cities, and have upcoming tours scheduled for Chicago and Boston. What drew you to Cincinnati, a comparatively smaller city, for a tour?

MG: I started coming to Cincinnati five years ago to work as a grader for the AP Human Geography exam. I’ll be honest: I didn’t know much about Cincy before I got here. Probably thought about chili, Pete Rose, and that’s about it. Now? I’m a totally Queen City booster: I tell people about Mount Adams, the streetcar, the walkable neighborhoods, the great food scene, the alleys (yes, the alleys), and more.

UC: What inspired you to create a tour centered around the 1943 WPA Guide to Cincinnati?

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.57.51 AMMG: Taken as a whole, the Federal Writers Guides are nothing short of amazing. Imagine the government putting writers back to work in the Great Depression by writing about their cities, states, regions, and more. Truly a fantastic undertaking, and the Cincinnati guidebook was the last big one to be released.

The guidebook cover all of Cincinnati, plus northern Kentucky, the far reaches of Hamilton County and more with an eye for spectacular details. Historic homes, obscure technical schools, evocative park descriptions, and just about anything else was grist for the mill. Today, travel guides don’t get into that type of detail, which is a same.

Also, it’s a bit of an “amber” moment, if you will, as this was the Queen City at its industrial peak. I consider it one of the better city guides produced by the Federal Writers project and that’s significant, considering other volumes considered New Orleans, Philadelphia, and others.

UC: For people who have been following the many changes in Cincinnati’s urban core in recent years, what new perspectives might they gain from the tour?

MG: I think they’ll gain a new perspective courtesy of the past, if you will. We’ll be hearing about how businesses like the Netherland Plaza Hotel, the Billboard Publishing Plant, the James Book Store and more gave the downtown character. As someone who teaches urban studies for a living, I think we’ll also be talking about how the various buildings have been repurposed over time and how various civic leaders have seen visions both realized and unrealized come and go.


Tours will be given on two dates–Thursday, June 4th and Saturday, June 6th–at 6 p.m each day. The tour lasts 60 minutes, and tickets can be purchased for $15 at Grinnell’s website.

Uptown leaders should copy Buffalo and develop a street-calming plan

Cincinnati’s uptown neighborhoods are experiencing a bit of a boom. Hundreds of residential units are being developed, new transportation infrastructure and capacity is coming online, and smaller, historic buildings are controversially making way for new, taller ones. While significant changes are underway, one thing that remains the same, and seems poised to only get worse as new roadway projects are built, is the fact that most major thoroughfares uptown are inhospitable to people who wish to walk or bike to get around. In Buffalo they have developed a plan to address just that in the city’s historic downtown. A similar plan should be considered for Cincinnati’s second largest employment center. More from Buffalo News:

The new Downtown Infrastructure Master Plan lays out a series of enhancements to key streets, districts and public squares to bolster the appearance and feel of the city center for residents, employees and visitors, while making the downtown more vibrant. At the same time, it seeks to make the area more cohesive and pedestrian-friendly, by improving access and connections. And it calls for traffic calming, more accessible green space and public space, and a “softening” of barriers like highway overpasses.

The goal is to provide a framework for future public-sector investments and projects, using shared objectives in making decisions about where to target new initiatives. But it’s also flexible enough, officials said, so that it can be adapted to tie in new projects to downtown and neighborhoods.

$8.5M East High Gateway Project to be Completed This Summer

Over the past 15 years, the City of Hamilton has sought to beautify its inner-city by reconstructing the High-Main Street corridor. Along the way, City officials have attempted to use historically sensitive design treatments along what is Hamilton’s most-traveled thoroughfare.

This has meant reversing a decades-long policy agenda of installing more modern-styled public amenities in the hopes that they would encourage the private sector to restore historic buildings, create public interest in visiting downtown, and eventually lead to the rebirth of businesses.

Downtown, from the Great Miami River to MLK Boulevard, was the first district to receive this treatment. Shortly after that, the Main Street business district in historic Rossville, from the river and west to Millville and Eaton Roads, and the connector to the just-recently-constructed Butler County Veterans Highway, between State Route 4 and Fair Avenue.

The most recently completed upgrade was the replacement of the High-Main Street Bridge, which has long been the most-traveled bridge on the Great Miami between Middletown and the Ohio River.

Glaringly missing from these updates, however, was the stretch of High Street between MLK and Route 4, which is actually the primary entry for most visitors to the city. Recognizing the irony, City officials decided to begin the process in 2011 to secure funding to give it a much-needed facelift.

Dubbed the East High Gateway, it will extend the historic district overlay from downtown in the hope that the improvements will have the same positive effect on public perception and business investment that prior streetscaping projects have had when finished. City officials also plan to create a land bank for the area that will help the city return under-utilized parcels into better-use, tax-generating properties.

Originally slated for completion in mid-2014, the 15-month-long construction effort is now expected to be finished later this year. The $8.5 million project includes the installation of brick-lined sidewalks with bioswales, new street lighting, landscaped medians, and alley-like access to businesses along the route. It will also involve burying overhead utilities and upgrading existing underground utilities.

Project officials also hope that the changes improve the flow of traffic for those commuting from the more-residential west side of the city.

The East High Gateway is being paid for through a combination of city and state funds, and with support from the Hamilton Community Foundation. Ongoing project updates can be tracked by following @EastHighGateway on Twitter.