Lower Price Hill’s MetroWest Site Looking for Someone to Follow

Buildings ablaze 10 years ago, now long gone. The former Queen City Barrel Company site is mostly empty, but not devoid of potential.

As you travel 1.5 miles from downtown along the Eighth Street Viaduct, you pass over the 18 acres of vacant land that welcomes you to Lower Price Hill. While new construction happening elsewhere in the city is constrained by existing buildings and streets, MetroWest Commerce Park is a blank slate 4.5 times the size of a typical city block, and almost as close to downtown as Findlay Market is to Fountain Square.

Though no tenants or buyers have agreed to terms on the City-owned property, Al Neyer Inc., Resurgence Group, and Colliers International are working to market the site. Highly contaminated from previous industrial uses, redevelopment of MetroWest has been years in the making, but the City has received notice from the Ohio EPA that the site is now clean enough for new construction. Sam Stephens, an economic development officer at the city, believes in the site’s potential.

“The project is not only about cleaning up the Queen City Barrel Company site, but more importantly facilitating a development that can bring productive jobs to Lower Price Hill and positively impact the environment,” Stephens told UrbanCincy.

The team marketing MetroWest believes it is an ideal location for manufacturing thanks to its easy access to I-75, active rail lines on site, and is within 1.5 miles of downtown. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Sewer District is nearby and can offer up to 50 million gallons of any water quality daily, potentially lowering the costs for businesses that require high water use that need not be potable.

In 2008, Cincinnati completed its Growth and Opportunities Study (GO Cincinnati) with a team of national advisers in economic development and real estate. The final study categorized the Queensgate/South Mill Creek Corridor as “a generally obsolete corridor,” but also noted that “recycling South Mill Creek into the hub of green production in the region, and perhaps the nation, is indeed a unique market opportunity that could catalyze development in this aging industrial stock area.”

Perhaps serving as a contradiction is that while GO Cincinnati recommends the corridor for mostly ‘drivable sub-urban’ development, it also specifically identifies Lower Price Hill as “a ‘walkable-urban’ place, which is experiencing the beginning of a revitalization.”

The current task is marketing the site to find a buyer or tenant. Images shown to promote the site look ripped from the context of a suburban industrial park, places that are not even remotely ‘walkable-urban.’ Even though, project team members say, these images are only intended to show buildable square feet, they could quickly become reality.

The GO Cincinnati Study cites industrial tenants’ primary concern to be purely functional, with little concern for aesthetics or prestigious location. It should then fall to the City to make sure what is developed is actually beneficial to Cincinnati and the surrounding neighborhoods. Does Lower Price Hill want to welcome people on the Eighth Street Viaduct to their community with dirty manufacturing rooftops cluttered with mechanical units?

When asked about the City’s vision for the site, all of the development parties emphasized there will not be heavy industry and welcomed any interested manufacturing or light industrial businesses. Given the site’s history, and the City’s spotty responsiveness to environmental concerns in the past, the neighborhood would be right to be weary of new industrial development.

Eileen Gallagher, Lower Price Hill Community Council Secretary, says that the neighborhood is open to a variety of businesses but would want express their opinions on any business, saying, “LPH would welcome positive, safe development that would utilize potentially valuable land, create jobs, expand the city’s tax base, and perhaps give training and employment to neighborhood people.”

A vision should be expected from the city, one to which residents can respond. GO Cincinnati began that vision, but the recommendation for a “green industrial park” is not being followed. The City has owned the property for almost a decade and has spent years marketing the site without finding a buyer or tenant. Stephens, however, puts the idea of visioning a little differently.

“It’s the city’s job to serve our citizens, not define communities,” Stephens explained. However, even if Lower Price Hill creates a vision, will the City listen?

Alternative Vision: Industrial Mixed-Use with Residential
MetroWest is a few hundred feet east of Oyler School, and another few hundred feet from the LPH Community School. Paired with Evans Field Park, it will be a gateway to the future Price Landing park and Ohio River Trail West.

Increasingly, developers are recognizing the potential benefits of light industrial mixed use as manufacturing becomes greener, lighter, and cleaner. A Los Angeles study showed tax income on mixed-use development to be five times greater than solitary industrial uses. With a prime location near downtown and access to transportation, it would seem that MetroWest is a great location for residential use. Perhaps even the Eighth Street Viaduct could once again allow access to buildings from the sidewalk.

Ohio EPA’s approval for development at MetroWest, however, came with a caveat: the site can only be used for industrial and commercial uses. While the site is approved as safe, residential uses are prohibited. City officials say that the decision was made to only clean the site to commercial/industrial standards because the remediation grant would not cover the increased cost of cleaning the soil to a residential standard.

Another problem is that the site is currently zoned Manufacturing General, which would limit residential use. While the site, as is, cannot be used for residential, the decisions leading to this circumstance now appear short-sighted. Cincinnati’s zoning code is changing; and MetroWest will likely become Industrial Mixed Use (IX) in the current draft of the City’s Land Development Code. This important change would allow for residential use on upper floors, except for the covenant with Ohio EPA.

The city could go after more grant money to remediate the site to residential standards, but this would require a total restart of the remediation process – something that may very well be a bridge too far.

Alternative Vision: Sustainable Dreams
Without changing the site plan in marketing images, these are a few solutions that could significantly enhance the property.

  1. Densely plant trees around the building. Over time the ‘forest’ would help absorb air and noise pollution, and would be aesthetically breathtaking.
  2. Where deeper soil is clean enough, water gardens surrounding buildings could help contain storm water and provide an ecological habitat to complement the Mill Creek and Ohio River.
  3. Rooftop gardens could be used for edible or non-edible plants. If a nursery were created for native trees, any nearby resident could pick up a sapling (ash, maple, oak, walnut, cherry, locust) for free. In 40 years the neighborhood could be heavily forested. Alternatively, Kroger might be interested in a new distribution center with edible greens on their roof similar to what Whole Foods had done with one of their stores in Brooklyn, NY.

While much is not yet clear about the future of this site, it is evident that something will be built at MetroWest; and when it is, it will bring some amount of jobs to Lower Price Hill. The question now is whether a developer or industrial tenant will dictate the development, likely benefiting their own interests, or if the City of Cincinnati will work to enhance its environment with sustainable infrastructure and buildings that benefit Lower Price Hill.

PHOTOS: Custom-Designed Banners Installed Throughout Central Business District

The holiday season was another record-setting year for Downtown with tourists, shoppers, and general holiday revelers packing the center city. At the same time Downtown Cincinnati Inc. partnered with Resource/Ammirati to design and install custom street pole banners.

DCI leaders say that the concept is modeled off of the iconic I “heart” New York marketing campaign that has since been copied countless times around the world. In this rendition, Resource/Ammirati developed 10 original designs that play off local traditions and things that people enjoy doing downtown.

In addition to the 10 total designs, the spelling of Cincinnati is done with typography that is drawn from logos from some of the city’s most famous brands including the Reds, Christian Moerlein, Skyline Chili, Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Bengals, Findlay Market, Know Theatre, and the Taft Museum of Art.

In total, DCI installed 42 of these street banners throughout the Central Business District. They will remain in place throughout 2015. There is no word as to what will happen with the campaign at that point, or if the campaign will be expanded to other mediums.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All nine photographs in this gallery were taken by Eric Anspach for UrbanCincy in January 2015.

VIDEO: $86M Nippert Stadium Renovation On-Schedule for August Opening

With the college football season behind us, the $86 million renovation and expansion of Nippert Stadium is now in its home stretch. At this point, the majority of structure work is now complete and interior work is now advancing during the cold weather.

The project is more of a renovation than it is an expansion. As part of the upgrades just a few thousand more seats will be added, along with the luxury boxes, overhauled concessions and restrooms, lounges and new technology that define the project.

A challenge from the beginning, however, was adding the new amenities in an environment severely constrained by existing buildings that at some points already help frame the stadium’s exterior. In order to accomplish that, Cincinnati-based FRCH Design Worldwide built upward along structure’s east side that sits adjacent to Tangeman University Center. The final results are interesting and unpredictable in a manner that should only add to the venue’s notoriety as the Wrigley Field of college football.

As part of the effort to upgrade the 114-year-old stadium, the University of Cincinnati has been issuing video updates about every three weeks. The latest includes Tom Gelehrter, Senior Director of New Media and Broadcasting at Bearcats Athletics, talking with project manager Bob Marton about recent progress that has been made and looking ahead to what is next.

One of the more notable changes in this update was the start of drilling work on the east concourse, which will eventually allow for construction of the two-story restroom and concession facility, stairways and light poles.

“A year ago we were drilling in this building, and now we’re drilling on the other side,” Marton explained in the the 5:29 video update. “We’ve got two levels of drilling going on…and that’s about a week’s worth of work.”

Due to the careful scheduling of construction activities, project officials do not anticipate ongoing cold temperatures to cause much of an issue since they had gone through it once before when drilling on the west side of the stadium last year.

If the project stays on schedule, it is expected to be complete by August 2015 – just ahead of this year’s September home opener for the Bearcats.

Mechanical Optimizers Aiming to Help Area Nonprofits Assess, Update Facilities

Local contracting companies, from air conditioners to electricians, have teamed up to form a group called Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits with the upkeep of their operations.

The newly formed group creates, for the first time, a single point of contact for an audit of a nonprofit’s building’s situation and help with the budgeting and finding grants and funds for the project. All of this, remarkably, is done free of charge for the area’s churches, mosques and many other private institutions.

Jeff Wilmink, an executive at Century Mechanical Solutions since 2012, said that he noticed an acute need for long-term strategies for local nonprofits to maintain their buildings. He told UrbanCincy that he saw institutions were not spending money on proper upkeep and were repairing things that long needed to be replaced. With no master plan for how/what to fix, these nonprofits were putting band-aids on visible problems while invisible problems were compounding, thus creating crisis situations that cost much more money to fix.

With this in mind, he created Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits be proactive and find funds to proactively tackle such projects. When I asked Jeff whether there was a light-bulb moment for this idea to come about, he told me of a call he received from the pastor at St. Louis Church downtown.

The pastor, he said, called because of a noise coming from the basement. After traversing an old, narrow stairway with limited access and even more limited use, Wilmink’s team found an ancient boiler that was leaking, and a basement covered in asbestos. The emergency fix needed for St. Louis Church ended up being much more costly than it would have otherwise been if fixed sooner.

There is not much blame to lay, either. Leaders of nonprofit organizations often do not know or understand the mechanical problems going on in their buildings and, therefore, do not know to fix it. In addition, technicians will often solve superficial problems that create short-term fixes, but neither party tends to think about what will need to be done in a year, five years or ten years.

Add this to the tight budgets of local nonprofits, and many cruise from emergency to emergency without ever fixing the underlying problems in their aging buildings.

“It’s irritating that we’ve allowed these buildings to get in the condition they’re in,” said Wilmink. He continued by saying that many institutions will spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic fixes while the mechanics of their building are literally rotting; or spend $25,000 every other year to fix a unit in order to save $75,000 upfront.

Mechanical Optimizers comes into the equation by offering to provide a free assessment of a nonprofit’s building. Then, after telling “the blunt truth” about what it will take to fix it right, Wilmink and his team will help locate grants and create a budget for fixing the problem and updating aged equipment.

The goal is to be smarter about maintaining a building’s mechanical systems so that high-priced emergency projects do not emerge later. Furthermore, Wilmink says that the very nature of these buildings – churches, mosques, markets, etc. – means finding funds can often be easier once the problem is identified, because someone is typically willing to step up and donate money to help out.

There is, as you might suspect, more to it for Mechanical Optimizers than the charitable work. Once they complete their free assessment, Wilmink says that they will often times submit a bid to perform the work like they would for any other project. Essentially, Mechanical Optimizers has found a way to combine charitable work with their daily business operations. At the same time, this “no agenda” charity is helping many local nonprofits save thousands of dollars.

One of the biggest savings that nonprofits typically receive comes from technology and equipment that can replace outdated systems with ultra-efficient units.

When asked about how government policies help or hinder his efforts, Wilmink pointed to a recent program in New Jersey where the state will pay 80% of the costs for upgrading systems and improving efficiency. The money for the program, he explained, comes from funds utility companies there are mandated to set aside for the state to use for such purposes.

In addition to St. Louis Catholic Church, Wilmink says that Mechanical Optimizers has worked on Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Findlay Market, the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and a slew of other buildings throughout the region.

Pointing to the work’s importance, the contractors involved with the group say that they will do whatever it takes to offer up their help and get the project done.

“If you want our help, we’ll find a way to make it happen.”

Nine Giant Brewing to Open in Heart of Pleasant Ridge Business District

Nine Giant Brewing has signed a lease at the corner of Montgomery Road and Ridge Avenue in the heart of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business district. The announcement comes years after community leaders celebrated the formal establishment of a Community Entertainment District for the area.

According to Urban Fast Forward, the agency in charge of leasing at the site, the signing is part of a larger redevelopment effort called Sixty99, which is being spearheaded by Gene Levental, and will eventually include more than $350,000 worth of upgrades to the 87-year-old building.

According to Blake Bartley, Urban Fast Forward’s leasing agent for the project, Sixty99 includes several yet-to-be-leased commercial spaces. In addition to Nine Giant Brewing, however, A Salon Named Desire is currently located on the building’s second floor.

The Nine Giant Brewing micro-brewpub, Bartley says, will take up 3,413 square feet of space along Montgomery Road and is being spearheaded by Brandon Hughes and Michael Albarella.

Perhaps surprisingly, the announcement comes years after the CED was announced for Pleasant Ridge; but with increasing investment throughout a variety of Cincinnati’s neighborhood business districts, this deal appears to be capitalizing on growing momentum in the city. As a result, community leaders in Pleasant Ridge believe this might spark more business openings in the future – something that would be buoyed by the fact that several liquor licenses remain as part of the Pleasant Ridge CED.

“Nine Giant is a great addition to Pleasant Ridge and the Sixty99 development and provides the neighborhood with a true entertainment destination,” Bartley told UrbanCincy. “This is a huge first step for what is going to be a thriving entertainment district at Sixty99.”