PHOTOS: Building Boom Changing the Face of Uptown Neighborhoods

While the construction activities taking place in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown often grab the most headlines, it is actually the city’s uptown neighborhoods where some of the most dramatic construction progress is taking place.

Numerous projects are underway that are adding four- to six-story structures all over Clifton Heights, Corryville, University Heights, Clifton, and Mt. Auburn.

The $15 million, 115-room Fairfield Inn & Suites is now topped out and filling in the remaining piece of the U Square at The Loop block along W. McMillan Street. Once this portion of the development is complete, attention will turn to developing the planned office building along Jefferson Avenue in between W. McMillan Street and Calhoun Street.

Just down the street from the hotel project site is The Verge – 178-unit residential development – which is also now topped out. This project has stirred controversy due to its demolition of two historic structures that were once on the site. In addition to that, the project is replacing a large surface parking lot and several small homes.

In Corryville, the finishing touches are being put on the $30 million, 147-unit VP3 residential development that, like The Verge, is targeting students studying at the University of Cincinnati. Likewise, the $25 million 101 E. Corry project is bringing an additional 123 apartments and eight townhomes to the historic neighborhood.

Nearby, and on the border of Clifton Heights and Corryville, is the University Plaza site, which has now been fully demolished of its previous structures. While the new development footprint will not differ significantly from what was there before, a new Walgreens is already nearing completion, and a new Kroger grocery store, twice the size of the previous store, will also soon begin construction as part of a $24 million redevelopment effort.

Finally, the $17 million, 117-unit Gaslight Manor residential development in Clifton is on-pace to be completed later this year. This project is replacing a less dense apartment complex that previously occupied the hilly site immediately northwest of Good Samaritan Hospital.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 17 photographs were taken by Eric Anspach in February 2016.

Proposed Development at Fifteenth & Vine Lives Up to 3CDC’s Parking Promises

When 3CDC first began developing the 359-space Mercer Commons Garage in 2012, they defended their actions for building such an over-sized garage by saying they would share the spaces with other planned nearby developments.

Nearly three-and-a-half years have passed since that time, but it is now becoming clear that 3CDC has largely lived up to the promises they made at the time.

When first criticized by UrbanCincy, 3CDC noted that the spaces at the Mercer Commons Garage were meant not only for the $50 million Mercer Commons development, but also the office space at the Paint Building, Cintrifuse, and former Boss Cox building. In total, 3CDC’s former Vice President of Development, Adam Gelter, estimated that those projects alone would need 90 to 100 spaces.

In addition to that, 3CDC’s previous plans for the former Smitty’s site called for 30 to 40 residential units, which would also have their parking provided for at the Mercer Commons Garage. Since that time, those plans have evolved, and 3CDC is now proposing a 55,000-square-foot office and retail building, which, by law, would require 155 parking spaces – much more than would have been required under the previous residential scheme.

City officials say that a potential 77-space reduction may be permitted due to the existence of the nearby Mercer Commons Garage and Washington Park Garage, which have an availability of 141 and 14 spaces, respectively.

Should 3CDC pursue to utilize those two garages to their fullest extent, then it would be feasible for the non-profit development organization to avoid providing any parking at all in the $16 million project slated for the southwest corner of Fifteenth and Vine Streets.

In addition to being located to two nearby parking garages, this site is directly across the street from a Kroger grocery store, located a block away from the Cincinnati Streetcar’s first phase, and within blocks of several Red Bike stations.

With a Walk Score of 96 out of 100 points, the proposed unnamed development at Fifteenth and Vine Streets boasts one of the most walkable locations in the region.

If all goes according to plan, and 3CDC is granted their zoning variances by City Hall, then project officials say they hope to begin construction as soon as possible, with a project completion scheduled for mid-2017.

CORE Looking to Spread Redevelopment Activity Beyond Downtown Hamilton

Following the successful efforts of the Consortium for Ongoing Reinvestment Efforts in the area around High Street in downtown Hamilton, the public-private partnership is now taking a more targeted approach to spark new investment along Main Street in the city’s historic Rossville neighborhood.

CORE has acquired a collection of 10 properties along the Main Street corridor that they say were purchased either due to availability or significance. The hope, they say, is to make an immediate impact on private property movement in the district.

The group does this by making strategic property acquisitions, returning them to productive use, then selling the properties to new private owners. In order to have the broadest impact, CORE also works with City Hall on more traditional economic development efforts to enhance the value of their properties and those around them.

“CORE’s first commitment is to reset and realign commercial storefronts, and increase economic and human activity at the street level,” Michael Dingeldein, Executive Director of CORE, explained to UrbanCincy. “That being said, additional residential density in the upper levels can and will also support increased foot traffic on Main Street.”

While leadership at CORE notes that their mission has been to focus on Hamilton’s city center, the new effort marks the partnership’s first major play outside of downtown. The move comes at the same time as several other initiatives, led by Hamilton City Council and Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, to boost the historic district on the west side of the Great Miami River.

The organization has been incredibly successful on the other side of the river downtown; and they see similar conditions along Main Street that can be leveraged.

Among other items, Dingeldein noted that the Main Street corridor boasts excellent architecture, terrific proximity to high quality neighborhoods, and an inviting pedestrian scale. At the same time, the district is lacking in diverse retail offerings, struggles with a negative public perception, and needs significant investments to improve building and sidewalk conditions.

But as is similar with many other neighborhood business districts, he says that reestablishing a residential presence above commercial retail will be critical.

“One of the biggest challenges will be to establish market rate residential density in the upper floors, over diverse retail storefronts on the street level,” said Dingeldein.

If indications are at all accurate, he may very well be right. As of now, he estimates that only half of the storefronts along Main Street are occupied, while less than 10% of the upper floors are being utilized for residential space.

“Our momentum and success in Hamilton in the past five years has been our broad all hands on deck approach to our challenges,” Dingeldein concluded. “Our city government is proactive and engaged, but fully supports all of our civic resources being in the same boat, at the same time, rowing in the same direction.”

$27M LibertyElm Project Exposes Cincinnati’s Urban Development Struggles

Source 3 Development recently announced their intention to develop a $27 million mixed-use infill project at the northwest corner of Liberty Street and Elm Street.

The project’s prominent location near Findlay Market and along the streetcar line, combined with its unusual large tract of cleared land, grabbed headlines, particularly as the developer promised to create 118 apartments and 15,000 square feet of street-level retail. All of the retail, and 90 apartments, will be developed in the new structure, the remaining 28 apartments will be developed within four historic structures that will be preserved.

In addition to being bold, the proposal also illustrates the conflicts challenging Cincinnati’s development community as the city continues its rapid physical and social transformation.

Historic Preservation
The site is large and includes an unusual amount of cleared land. Of course, this land used to be occupied by historic structures.

Prior to the wave of investment that has changed the face of Over-the-Rhine, these historic buildings were left to decay to the point where City Hall issued emergency demolition permits for them. Since their demolition, the site has been used by Findlay Market as a community garden.

Cincinnati developers continue to be challenged with building in historic districts. Often, new structures struggle with balancing contemporary design with a historic neighborhood fabric. When it comes to the historic structures themselves, there still seems to be a split in the development community about whether it is more valuable to tear down aging buildings, or spend the money to breathe new life into them.

Until the understanding that historic buildings and urban fabric are what establish the value of neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, there will continue to be a conflict between those who wish to preserve the old, and those who think reducing the upfront capital cost is more valuable.

Transit & Parking
The LibertyElm development is arguably located in one of the region’s most walkable neighborhoods, is served by numerous bus routes, and is surrounded by the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Yet, while touting these facts, John Heekin, Principal at Source 3 Development, says that a concerted effort was made to provide enough parking to not only satisfy its new residents and businesses, but also address parking demands in the surrounding neighborhood. In order to accomplish this, a three-level, 165-space garage is included with the project.

In fact, when asked about the possibility of adding more residential to the project, Heekin explained that while more apartments are being demanded, it is the provision of parking that is the limiting factor.

“We think the market demand for residential is higher, but most people who have seen our plans want more parking,” Heekin told UrbanCincy. “This is hopefully where the streetcar will help.”

In theory, this is absolutely where the streetcar should help. But in reality, this is where the neighborhood’s walkability, bikeability and existing bus service already help. In fact, City Hall has thought so much of these aspects that it has reduced minimum parking requirements along the streetcar line, and throughout the center.

Heekin says that his development team is hopeful the project’s residential tenants will not have as much a need for cars, thus creating an opportunity to turn some of those spaces over to public use – perhaps for people visiting Findlay Market.

But it is this hope, and lack of confidence, that creates such predicament for Cincinnati’s development community. While the city is becoming more transit friendly, many see the market still demanding one to two parking spaces per residential unit, and even more for commercial retail, which has become a regional draw in Over-the-Rhine in recent years.

Having been focused on developing projects on green field sites in suburbia for several generations, challenging urban infill projects are still new to Cincinnati’s development community. This is made most obvious in Over-the-Rhine where development is at a fever pitch, and developers must deal with both the conflict of building new or preserving old, and developing around cars or not.

Source 3 Development seems to be on the right track, as compared to many other recent development projects, but the conflicts remain clear.

Heekin says they hope to break ground on the project this fall, with residents and businesses moving in a year after that. Perhaps between now and then, Cincinnati’s development community will become more comfortable with building truly urban projects that preserve and complement the city’s historic assets, and take full advantage of the walkability, bikeability and transit service offered throughout the city.

Cincinnati Bringing Neighborhood Enhancement Program to Lower Price Hill, Mt. Auburn

The City of Cincinnati has announced that it will take its award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program to Lower Price Hill and Mt. Auburn this year.

These two neighborhoods represent the 21st and 22nd communities to participate in the program, which utilizes a 90-day collaborative focus between various city departments and community organizations to address crime hot spots, beautifying streetscapes, and tackling blight.

“Cincinnati has a long and proud history of neighborhood involvement and that core value is one of the reasons the NEP is so effective,” Mayor John Cranley (D) said in a prepared statement. “The importance of collaboration with local businesses and volunteers in making our neighborhoods sustainable cannot be underestimated.”

City officials say that Lower Price Hill’s NEP will take place from March through May, while the program will take place in Mt. Auburn from mid-August through mid-November.

While the NEP has consistent goals for each community in which its employed, city leaders also work closely with each individual neighborhood to make sure the program is tailored specifically to meet its needs. Those details, program administrators say, will be developed more for both Lower Price Hill and Mt. Auburn over the coming months.

In addition to reducing blight and addressing crime activity, the program has also started to take on signature projects identified by each respective community. Last year, this included the renovation of Grant Park Playground in Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Outdoor Gym in Roselawn.

“This program is about much more than just building playgrounds and cleaning up empty lots,” noted Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black. “It’s about making meaningful and sustainable investments in some of Cincinnati’s historic communities in order to ensure they’re thriving places.”