Episode #54: Summer Update

On the 54th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, Randy Simes, Jake Mecklenborg, and Chris Cousins join Travis for a summer update. We discuss the proposed parks levy, whether GE might relocate its headquarters to Cincinnati, the expansion of Red Bike, and new developments in the CBD.

Proposed Tax Would Provide Dedicated Parks Funding Stream, $85M in Improvements

A campaign to improve Cincinnati’s parks by raising the City’s property tax by 1 mill will “change the city for the better,” according to Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley (D).

Cranley made his remarks during the official launch of the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks levy campaign on Saturday morning at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn.

The charter amendment would raise the City’s property tax rate to 13.1 mills and would bring in approximately $5.3 million a year. The move would require City Council to fund the Parks Department’s capital budget at its 2016 budget level, and approve bonds for capital improvements using levy revenue.

Proponents say that 75% of the levy revenue will be available for the City to borrow against in order to fund 13 designated capital projects selected by the mayor and city manager. The remaining 25% will go to system-wide maintenance and operating costs.

“We’re asking to voters to pass a very small property tax that we believe, for that small amount of money – $35 a year per $100,000 value – will increase property values and increase the quality of life for all Cincinnatians as we take the wonderful park system and we bring it to the neighborhoods,” Cranley said.

The group needs to collect approximately 6,000 signatures by August 15 to make it on to the November 3 ballot. Cincinnati Parks has not placed a levy on the ballot since 1927.

“We have decided that the only fair way to do this, if we’re going to be asking the taxpayers to pay more money, is to ask the citizens first to even let us put it on the ballot,” Cranley said. “At the end of the day, we’re putting this decision in the hands of the voters, and we believe the value proposition is there. We believe that this will build a better city.”

Vision needs funding
Board of Park Commissioners President Otto M. Budig, Jr. said that his organization has been charged with creating the best parks system in the country, but despite generous City funding and donor contributions, it continually finds itself short on money for major initiatives.

“We have had some difficulty in developing major projects that have long been needed,” he said. “I went to the mayor and I said, ‘We need these funds to bring about a new vision. You give us a vision, we’ll take care of the details.’ The mayor has given us the vision.”

While many of the projects are only in the conceptual stage at current time, the Citizens for Cincinnati Parks website says that they were chosen due to being the most shovel-ready, with the ability to be completed quickly.

Multipurpose recreational trails are a major component of the plan, including the Oasis River Trail ($8 million), Wasson Way ($12 million), Mill Creek Greenway Trail ($5 million), and the Ohio River West Trail ($6 million). The City also plans to work with the Cincinnati Off-Road Alliance to develop more than 20 miles of off-road trails in Mount Airy Forest ($11 million).

“The bike system that will be created as a result of this levy, off-road, which is a big thing for me – I think off-road is a much safer, dedicated path that doesn’t have as many accidents – the most extensive, bicycle urban path in America,” Cranley said.

The plan would also raise $10 million for a joint venture between the City, the University of Cincinnati, and Clifton Town Meeting to create a new master plan for Burnet Woods.

“As I often say, Burnet Woods – even more so that Washington Park – could be the Central Park of Cincinnati,” Cranley said. “If you think about Corryville, CUF, Clifton, Avondale…all surround this park. It’s the densest part of the city and it’s right across the street from 30,000 students. We can have the same impact with that park as we did with Washington Park.”

Other projects include:

  • Developing part of the 20-acre New Prospect Baptist Church grounds into a communal programming center, athletic fields, and an urban camp site that would cost $8 million;
  • A public-private partnership with Western & Southern Financial Group that would provide $5 million to renovate and reprogram Lytle Park;
  • $5 million for the redevelopment of a portion of the former Mercy Hospital complex in Westwood into athletic fields and green space for an expanded Oskamp Park;
  • A $5 million redesign of Ziegler Park in Over-the-Rhine/Pendleton, in conjunction with the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC);
  • $4 million for streetscape and roadway improvements surrounding Christ Hospital and improvements to Inwood Park in Mount Auburn;
  • $2 million for the preservation of the historic King Studios site and development of a small café/museum in Evanston;
  • $2 million for upgrades around Westwood Town Hall and Epworth Avenue; and
  • $1.8 million for a new boat dock/marina at Smale Riverfront Park.

“Now we have this new vision,” said Parks Director Willie Carden, who already has overseen the amazing transformations at Smale Riverfront Park and Washington Park, among others. “The vision brings ‘parkonomics’, partnerships to the neighborhoods. We can do this. We can make this a safer, healthier community, but we need your help.”

Physical Redevelopment of Cincinnati Also Reinvigorating Local Art Community

Everyone has heard about the craft beer movement and the desires for locally sourced food, but Cincinnati is also experiencing a similar renaissance in the art community.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has become well-known for the work they are doing to redevelop the city’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Their work has created hundreds of new residences and dozens of new shops. Perhaps lesser known is the fact that many of these residences and shops are being designed and outfitted with custom, local art.

Area businesses have also begun embracing local artists. At Taste of Belgium, owner Jean-Francois Flechet says that they worked with local carpenters and artists to design all the tables, furniture and even the bar itself at their hub restaurant at Twelfth and Vine Streets. They also commissioned a large art installation behind the bar.

Flechet says that they have continued this pattern at their newer store on Short Vine in Corryville, and even more so at their soon-to-open restaurant in Norwood.

“We are working on a really cool installation at Rookwood Exchange with Dan and Steve from Brave Berlin,” Flechet said referring to the two men behind the Lumenocity concept. As such, the installation at the new Taste of Belgium in Rookwood will be of the visual display variety.

“We will have animated projected artwork from three projectors,” he explained. “The artwork will evolve throughout the day and updated on a regular basis. It will be really fun and different.”

One of the more dramatic pieces of commissioned art in the center city is ‘Aluminnati’ at 3CDC’s new offices. There, at Twelfth and Walnut Streets, a massive piece of artwork was commissioned for the office’s two-story space connecting the reception area on the fourth floor to offices above.

“When the design team for 3CDC’s new offices created the grand interior staircase between our two levels, we knew that an original piece of art should grace the two-story wall,” explained Anastasia Mileham, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at 3CDC.

Created by Jeff Welch, the piece is an aluminum topographical sculpture of Cincinnati’s center city – a fitting installation for a development corporation that is solely focused on that geographic area. It was a job Welch says he truly enjoyed, and one that he thinks defines a growing interest in custom artwork.

“I believe they [3CDC] must support local artists if we are to rebuild Cincinnati to the cherished quality level established by our ancestors, who built OTR entirely with local artists and craftsmen,” Welch told UrbanCincy. “My experience with 3CDC is that they are very good at supporting local artists, at least in the capacity of their new headquarters, where they had total control over the project.”

Welch was not the only local artist producing work for the new 3CDC office building, and he believes that the growing interest in Cincinnati for locally produced and original artwork is part of a larger national trend, largely being driven by the Millennial generation.

“I believe there is a definitely a local trend toward commissioned art, design and craft, and I’m banking my future on it,” said Welch. “All the new restaurants, shops and businesses seem to be in a competition to feature local craft, or they are at least assuming that something has to be made local. It’s definitely a trend nationwide and Cincinnati is right on-point.”

In fact, he believes in the movement so much that after relocating to Cincinnati in 2009, he started his own design company called Modularem. It’s a movement that is not just tied directly to art, but the larger identity and culture of the city.

“I had gone to UC for undergrad in the early 2000s and had soaked up a lot of the city’s amazing urban history,” Welch explained. “But when we read about the streetcar project, we were sold. That single project represented so much commitment to progress, and enthusiasm for the future, that we wanted to be part of it.”

While his story is unique, he is certainly not alone. According to Mileham, the changing culture of the city is at the heart of its revival.

“Local art is at the heart of everything our organization believes in, and what this OTR community is about,” Mileham said. “The Italian Renaissance-style buildings we renovate are hand-crafted art, the restaurateurs who start businesses in our commercial spaces are local artists, we program the civic spaces that we manage with original music and local performing arts groups.”

Cincy Red Bike On Pace to Shatter First Year Ridership Projections

Community leaders gathered in Covington yesterday to celebrate the opening of the first six of 11 new Cincy Red Bike stations in Northern Kentucky. Four additional stations will be opened in Newport, and one in Bellevue, by the end of the week.

The expansion south of the river is a natural expansion for the system, which has thus far focused on Cincinnati’s center city neighborhoods. After initially launching with 30 stations in Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton Heights, University Heights, Clifton, Corryville and Avondale, Cincy Red Bike has now added new stations in the West End and Northside.

Perhaps more critical for the system’s ridership, however, is the fact that many of the newer stations in Ohio are what operators call “infill” stations. For these, Jason Barron, Cincy Red Bike Executive Director, says that they are looking at locations that focus less on landmarks, and more on where people live car-light or car-free.

“The three busiest stations, by a factor of a third, are Fountain Square, 12th/Vine and Main/Orchard,” Barron previously told UrbanCincy. “We will start to look at areas in the West End like Linn Street, Bank Street, City West and maybe Brighton. We have to look and see where there are opportunities to connect people and make a difference in their lives.”

Once the remaining installations are complete, Red Bike will boast 50 stations, making it the largest bike-share operator in Ohio and the first in all of Kentucky. CoGo Bike Share in Columbus is the second largest with 41 stations following a recent expansion of their own.

After a predictably sluggish winter, it now appears that Cincy Red Bike is on pace to at the very least meet, and most likely exceed, its first year ridership projections. When the system launched in September 2014 the hope was to attract 52,000 rides within the first year. As of now, some 46,000 rides have been made on the public bike-share system.

With the system average 4,600 rides per month, including the slow winter months, the initial projection will be easily surpassed. If that monthly ridership rate increases over the forthcoming summer months, and with the added stations and bikes, the non-profit agency may be able to significantly exceed its own goals.

The enthusiasm in Northern Kentucky appears to be setting the table for even more expansions in the Bluegrass State in the near future. Already, funding is being lined up for an additional station in Bellevue, and the president of Southbank Partners told River City News that they hope to see Red Bike added to Dayton, Ft. Thomas and Ludlow as well.

In addition to Northern Kentucky, additional infill stations are anticipated uptown and neighborhood leaders continue to call for the system’s expansion to the Walnut Hills area.

Red Bikes can be used by purchasing an $8 pass that is good for unlimited rides of 60 minutes or less over a 24-hour period. Those who plan on using the system more than 10 times per year are better off purchasing an annual membership for $80.

$52 Million Residential Tower Appears Poised to Move Forward at Eighth and Sycamore

Following committee approval yesterday, City Council appears poised to approve a $7.3 million financial package that should bring a 130-unit North American Properties project to reality.

Designed by John Senhauser Architects, the $52 million, 15-story residential tower will accelerate the transformation of the northeastern corner of the central business district, where business leaders have been trying to rebrand it as the Eighth Street Design District for its cluster of design agencies.

As City Hall has done in the past, 3CDC will be used to build and operate a 500-space public parking garage, along with 10,000 square feet of commercial space, which is estimated to account for $16.5 million of the total project cost.

The project was first announced two years ago, and will take the place of the former two-story Red Cross building at the southeast corner of Eighth and Sycamore Street.

While the parking garage seems oversized at face value, it is part of a larger development efforts taking place nearby, including a 115-room Holiday Inn that includes no parking at all. As part of that deal, the City of Cincinnati agreed to build a parking garage that would provide 120 spaces. Originally planned to include 610 parking spaces, the new parking garage will support both developments and replaces an aging public garage that once occupied the site.

The relatively quick procession of this project stands in contrast to the 111-unit residential tower North American Properties recently completed called Seven at Broadway. Unlike this yet-to-be-named project, Seven at Broadway took more than a decade to complete, with an above-ground parking garage occupying the site since 2003.

The apartments at Seven at Broadway are some of the priciest in the city, and were pre-leased at a pace that surprised developers and investors. Price points have not yet been identified for this new project.

The completion of the Holiday Inn and this new residential tower will significantly alter this corner of downtown, but many still view the two large surface lots across Sycamore Street as the final major pieces of the puzzle.

The southern of the two lots is controlled by St. Xavier Church, and the northern lot is owned by Columbia Oldsmobile Company.

When General Electric was searching for a site for their new Global Operations Center, which ultimately located at The Banks, a rendering surfaced that showed an office building for GE on the northern of the two lots. Rumors have once again begun circulating online that the mockups might be or could be related to potential corporate offices for General Electric should they take action on their relocation threats to the State of Connecticut.

The full City Council will vote on this financial package on Wednesday