$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.”

Success of Hickory Place Townhomes Accentuates Avondale’s Turnaround

A long-held vision for bringing new market rate housing to Avondale is finally being realized; and its early success has surprised many. With most of the initial eight Hickory Place Townhomes already sold, developers say they are ready to invest in a second phase.

“We knew the townhomes in phase one would sell quickly, but sales outpaced our expectations,” said Beth Robinson, president and CEO of the Uptown Consortium.

Robinson says that the first five homes were sold in just 16 days, which is well ahead of the 51-day average for homes on the market in the Cincinnati area. Those first five homes, she says, also had listing prices above $175,000.

When community leaders and development officials with the Uptown Consortium broke ground on eight townhomes in early 2014, many were skeptical about whether they homes would sell.

The skepticism was easy to understand.

The site is located in the middle of a redevelopment area that has yet to be fully realized, is situated in a neighborhood that is often defined by crime and poverty, and is also located near many foreclosed or abandoned homes. But knowing the challenges of the site and project only offers a partial understanding.

The site is located just off of Burnet Avenue, which has seen tens of millions in new investment over the past decade. These investments have created new businesses and jobs, while also preserving some long-time neighborhood establishments and historic assets. Meanwhile, the nearby Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has continued to add hundreds of high-paying medical and research jobs to its growing campus, and the nearby playground and ball field was recently freshened up thanks to an investment from the Reds Community Fund.

These new investments, combined with changing demographics more interested in urban living and working options, have set the table for a new path forward for the city’s seventh most populated neighborhood.

“We are thrilled that the market has responded so favorably to the Hickory Place Townhomes,” said Ozie Davis, executive director at Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation. “The success of this project proves our strong belief that Avondale is the next hot residential market.”

Similar to what has been completed thus far, the $5 million second phase will include eight townhomes with approximately 1,400 square feet of living space, and including two to three bedrooms. In order to maximize the use of the land, developers are only building one-car garages for each home, but they will come with the option of an additional on-street parking space along Northern Avenue.

Listing agents with Coldwell Banker’s Metro Link office say that the prices for these homes will start at $225,000.

Developing homes in this price range within Avondale is intentional. In addition to being the largest black community in the city, Avondale is also one of the city’s poorest. This has led to numerous problems over the years, including schooling options, lack of healthy food options, crime and abandonment.

While neighborhood leaders have shown a strong commitment to bolstering affordable housing options, and improving existing conditions of the neighborhood for longstanding residents, the diversification of income levels and housing options is seen as a positive.

If recent success stories, such as the $40 million Avondale Town Center development on Reading Road, and the massive capital investment to improve low-income housing options, are any indication, then the future of the neighborhood looks as bright and as hopeful as the vision Davis has for it.

Covington Embraces Idea of Transforming On-Street Parking Into Public Spaces

Five sites and designs were recently selected for bringing parklets to the heart of Covington. The announcement came on Friday, January 15 and marked the conclusion of a design-build competition called Curb’d.

Organizers say that the intent of the competition was to support Covington’s business districts by promoting walkability, connectivity and placemaking – topics that align with the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation, Renaissance Covington and MainStrasse Village Association, which provided financial support for the competition.

The five selected sites are also seen as a pathway link between the MainStrasse and Renaissance districts in Covington’s downtown.

First popularized in North America in San Francisco, parklets have grown in popularity over the years particularly in neighborhood business districts looking to reclaim public space from cars for people walking, biking, shopping or simply relaxing. Over the years, cities, like Chicago, have even embraced the idea so much that specific design guidelines and practices have been institutionalized to lend legitimacy to the movement.

In Cincinnati that has so far not been the case.

In 2012, a parklet program was proposed for Over-the-Rhine, but the effort never gained the community support, funding and endorsement from City Hall that it would ultimately require. Since that time, ideas have been pitched to develop a parklet in front of Tucker’s Restaurant on Vine Street, but those efforts have also fallen short.

Aside from that, the closest the region has come to experiencing the transformation of on-street parking spaces into other uses has come in the form of the international celebration of PARK(ing) Day.

While parklets have generally become known as public seating areas or small parks, the organizers of Curb’d said they wanted to push the limits with this competition.

“The examples that we showed the businesses and designers in our information sessions were glow-in-the-dark swings, a mini-movie theater, and a bus stop that resembled an old school radio,” explained Sam O’Connor, Curb’d project coordinator. “Ultimately, we wanted our design teams to really discover the potential of a parking space.”

After finding businesses interested in participating, O’Connor says they, in cooperation with the participating businesses, then proceeded to curate a collection of 12 design teams that would come up with proposals for the spaces. The selected design teams then worked with local fabrication workshops to discuss their ideas and work through the logistics of turning their designs into reality.

After some further refinement, five design teams had their proposals selected to receive funding to have them built.

A+D Design developed what they called Hopscotch Garden for space in front of Braxton Brewing on W. Seventh Street, and will work with 3dx on fabrication. The concept calls for a space that will allow for people to sit and enjoy a beer or coffee outside, while also offering a hopscotch zone.

BPHOGS Design came up with The Boxing Ring for a location in front of Cutman Barbershop and Flow. They will work with Weld Rite Industries to produce the parklet, which will include passive spaces for seating and dining. The parklet will also include several programmed spaces, which, fittingly enough, will include speed bags positioned along the sidewalk to allow for maximum accessibility, and a center area for a game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.

Hub+Weber Architects designed a parklet intended for people to exercise and enjoy virtual trips to far away destinations, or even classic movies shown on a projector powered by the pedaling of the bikes. The stationary bicycle space will be located in front of Inspirado at Madison Gallery.

In front of Left Bank Coffeehouse, Seth Trance and Harry Ross developed a concept they call Wish-Igloo, which they hope will promote engagement between the first person who uses the parklet and the last person who does so. Trance and Ross believe this will be accomplished through the parklet’s striking design that is both changeable and invites users to physically manipulate the space.

The final project is also, perhaps, the most unique. To be located next to Stoney’s Village Toy Shoppe, John Noble & Team came up with a design that includes a range of engaging toys for children of varying ages. In essence, the parklet is seen as a way to extend the shop’s culture out onto the street, while also encouraging children to be more active.

Fabrication of each of the five parklets is expected to begin within the next week or so, with installation taking place the first week of May. O’Connor says they plan to do a grand reveal on Friday, May 6, with the parklets staying in place until the end of October when they will then be taken down.

EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that MSA Architects designed ‘The Boxing Ring’ parklet for in front of Cutman Barbershop. That parklet design was actually produced by BPHOGS Design. Additionally, due to a mix-up in winning project announcements, it was incorrectly stated that Hub+Weber Architects designed the coloring lounge concept for in front of Madison Gallery. Hub+Weber Architects actually designed a stationary bicycle parklet. Both items have been corrected in this story.

Episode #61: Cincy Stories with Desi Marie, Bonnie Meyer, and Jay Shifman

12196030_1708188359392686_3520076145406729494_nOn the 61st episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we are sharing three of the stories from the latest edition of Cincy Stories, which was held on November 3, 2015 at MOTR Pub.

These speakers are Desi Marie, also known as The Silent Poet; Bonnie Meyer, the Director of LGBTQ Programs & Services at Northern Kentucky University; and Jay Shifman, a community activist who works with the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation and other local organizations.

The next Cincy Stories event will be held on February 2. It will feature speakers Katie Vogel, Derrick Braziel, Corey Ward, Mac Means, Jai Washington, and Claire Suer, as well as local music from Andrew Aragon.