You can thank Congress for all those tolls that will soon hit the Cincinnati region

This should be a wake-up call for not just the lawmakers who have failed to raise the gas tax since 1993 or peg it to inflation, but also every voter. Locally we hear constantly from the group opposed to the use of tolls to pay for the Brent Spence Bridge or I-75 reconstruction, but the Highway Trust Fund has been bankrupt for many years and surviving on bailouts from Congress year-after-year.

Yes, of course it’s far past time to raise the artificially low gas tax, but it is also time to change the way in which we collect funds to maintain our system and add to its capacity. Instead of a simple tax on gasoline consumption, we should move to a tax that charges people based on how much they use our roadways, not how much they consume gasoline. More from The Hill:

The Department of Transportation (DOT) on Tuesday moved up its projected bankruptcy date for the trust fund that is used to pay for road and transit projects, saying it will now run dry by the end of August. The DOT has warned that the transportation funding shortfall could force state and local governments to cancel infrastructure projects scheduled to begin this summer because federal money will not be able to assist with construction costs.

The Highway Trust Fund is normally filled by revenue collected by the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax. The gas tax has not be increased since 1993 and infrastructure expenses have outpaced receipts by about $20 billion in recent years as Americans drive less frequently and cars become more fuel efficient. The Congressional Budget Office has projected that lawmakers will have to authorize $100 billion in new spending in addition to the $34 billion that is expected to brought in annually by the gas tax to approve a new six-year transportation bill, which is the length being sought by infrastructure advocates.

Connoisseurs, Novices Can Start Getting ‘Half Cut’ at OTR’s New Beer Cafe Today

Tom O'Brien and Jack HeekinOver-the-Rhine will welcome another craft beer establishment when HalfCut Beer Cafe opens at southeast corner of Twelfth and Walnut Streets today.

In what seems to be a trend in the competitive OTR beer marketplace, HalfCut will attempt to distinguish itself from the rest with a unique twist – it is a beer café where their “beeristas” will help recommend beer choices and get to know their customers in a relaxed setting much like a coffee shop.

“When someone walks up to the counter, you’ll get to learn and sample different beers in a way that’s different than other bars,” Jack Heekin, HalfCut co-owner, told UrbanCincy. “We’ll learn where each customer is in their journey, and we’ll work with them.”

Heekin says that the important thing is understanding and getting to know each customer’s palate; saying that not everyone wants to try every beer, but that HalfCut will aim to inform them about the particular brewery and process used to make each particular beer.

To that end, the owners say that while they will have 16 taps at first, they will all be styled the same as to avoid people choosing a beer based on their familiarity with it or their fondness for its tap design. Later they will have the ability to expand to 32 taps.

The philosophy is one that was not crafted overnight. Instead, it came about during a more than 6,000-mile road trip in the name of beer education.

“What we’re really trying to do is add something that’s unique to Cincinnati,” Heekin explained. “When we were on our road trip we came up with this linear process of learning and wanted to bring it back to Cincinnati.”

This will not be the first attempt, for this group, to bring something new to Cincinnati. Several years ago the same team launched the now seemingly omnipresent Pedal Wagon, which is a 14-seat bike that can be reserved for special events and pub crawls. After starting with just one wagon in 2012, they now have three on Cincinnati’s streets and one in Columbus, with several more to be added later this year.

“Pedal Wagon helped us learn how to make something from nothing,” Heekin noted. “It made us realize how important it is to focus on both the customers and workers, and also how important it is to differentiate your idea.”

The group immediately differentiated HalfCut by launching a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo. While the campaign had aimed to raise $5,000 to help with build out costs of the 800-square-foot establishment, they ultimately raised nearly double that.

Heekin says that HalfCut also received some financial assistance from the Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative’s Microcity Loan.

The cozy HalfCut interior seats about 30 people and features tables and seating that are much lower to the ground than most bars. In an effort to keep the atmosphere relaxed, the owners also say that music will be set at a low volume and that they will close at 10:30pm during the week, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6pm on Sundays.

To the owners, HalfCut, which is a 1920s slang term for the perfect state of mind after a couple of beers, is not the kind of place to go out and get hammered, but rather the type of place where you might go for some good conversation.

While they are unable to brew their own beer on site, HalfCut will offer a number of locally brewed beers as well as an extensive collection of craft beers from around the country that Heekin says are difficult to find elsewhere in the region.

Customers are able to choose from both an in-house and a to-go selection of beers. Those looking to take some beer home with them, either from the counter or HalfCut’s walk-up window on Twelfth Street, can choose between 32- or 64-ounce growlers, 22-ounce bombers (similar to a wine glass look), and standard or mixed six-packs.

Gomez Salsa will also soon be operating out of the walk-up window, selling tacos, burritos, taco salads and other items. This walk-up window along Twelfth Street was previously home to Lucy Blue Pizza, which relocated two blocks away on Main Street in March 2013.

Those who decide to stay inside and linger, perhaps to enjoy the 20-foot mural from Neltner Small Batch, will be able to order flights, pints, or 22-ounce bombers of any beer on tap, and also choose from 20 to 25 rotating bottle selections.

Heekin and co-owner Tom O’Brien said they signed a nine-year lease on the space and have hired eight employees. They will start serving customers today at 4pm.

All photographs by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

How to repurpose parking garages that are becoming increasingly obsolete

There are far more parking spaces in America than there are cars. The total is so high, in fact, that there are even more than double the number of parking spaces in America than there are people. There is a parking glut, not a shortage, and this problem is getting worse as more and more people are choosing not to drive at all or at the very least drive less.

What this means is that parking garages need to be designed in a way that will allow them to be repurposed for other uses. In Cincinnati, this is playing out at the new dunnhumbyUSA Centre where its garage is being designed so that office space can be built in its place in the future. All parking garages, however, should be designed in such a way. More from NextCity about how leaders in Atlanta are working toward just that:

On Wednesday the school unveiled SCADpad, a series of three micro-housing units in a parking garage near its Midtown Atlanta campus. The idea is a novel yet simple one: Repurpose underused parking garages — about 40,000 parking structures in the U.S. operate at half capacity, according to the Urban Land Institute — for housing in dense areas that need it. The 135-square-foot micro-apartments each take up one parking space, with an additional space for use as a “terrace” (seriously!), and were designed by 75 current SCAD students, 37 alumni and 12 professors. A dozen students will move into the apartments on April 15.

“Think about it,” Sottile said. “Many of these 20th-century parking structures are on their way toward obsolescence, and we’re asking questions about how those can be reinvented for neighborhoods. There’s also a historic preservation side of this. And we want to see how can we get them back into higher usage.”

Indianapolis Developer to Continue Oakley’s Housing Boom with 272-Unit Project

Yet another Indianapolis-based developer is entering the hot Cincinnati residential market. This time the developer is Buckingham Companies and the location is Oakley.

According to the Business Courier, an UrbanCincy content partner, Buckingham has been eyeing the Cincinnati market for some time. They decided that now was the time to move on the seven-acre site immediately southeast from the $120 million Oakley Station development which will include nearly 600,000 square feet of office and retail space, 302 apartments and a movie theater at full build out.

The developers are citing the location’s close proximity to Downtown and the neighborhood walkability offered in now-booming east side city neighborhood as the main draws.

Buckingham hopes to break ground on the project this May and open the summer of 2015. At full build out the project will include 272 apartments in seven, three-story buildings. Residences will range from 812 to 1,600 square feet and likely cost around $1 to $1.50 per square foot.

The development says that they will pursue LEED for Homes, the U.S. Green Building Council‘s newest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications, for the project.

The site is located immediately adjacent to a freight rail line owned by CSX, and currently includes two industrial warehouse buildings and approximately 11 single-family homes along Cardiff Avenue. Both the homes and the warehouses date back to the early 1900s. Initial reports indicated that the developers may renovate one of warehouses into 41 apartments.

The project announcement comes immediately after the developers acquired seven of the properties earlier this week. Of the remaining five homes, three are held by separate, unaffiliated LLCs and the other two are listed by the Hamilton County Auditor as owned by individuals who live elsewhere.

Popular St. Louis-Based Pi Pizzeria to Open Cincinnati Location in AT580 Building

Pi Pizzeria is set to open its seventh location, and only its second outside of St. Louis. The Cincinnati location will be in the AT580 building at 6th and Main Streets, one block from the Contemporary Arts Center, 21c Museum Hotel, and Aronoff Center, near several major corporate headquarters, including Procter & Gamble, and within walking distance of the riverfront and sports stadiums. The restaurant will seat approximately 125 and is being designed by SPACE Architecture of St. Louis.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OH

“We’ve been admiring the Cincinnati market for a few years now, but just started our search about a year ago,” Pi Co-owner Chris Sommers told nextSTL. “We are amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR, and had to be a part of it.” Sommers has had his eye on Cincinnati for some time before finally signing a lease. Chris’s wife Anne Schuermann Sommers is from Cincinnati and the couple visits frequently.

AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHGoogle Streetview of 6th and Main in Cincinnati.

In addition to serving award-winning thin crust and deep dish pizzas with a signature corn meal crust, the restaurant focuses on local brews and plans to serve only St. Louis and Cincinnati beers. “We are also very excited to partner with our hometown St. Louis’ largest local brewer Schlafly, featuring their beers for the first time ever in Ohio,” Sommers shared. The St. Louis Brewery, maker of Schlafly beers, is the largest craft brewer in St. Louis at 60,000 barrels per year. Schlafly produces Pi Common, a take on the Anchor Steam beer that started the craft brewing revolution.

A variety of beers from the burgeoning brewery scene in Cincinnati will be featured. “The brewing scene has exploded in Cincinnati and we can’t wait to pour as many local craft beers as possible,” stated Sommers. Pi Partners with local breweries in St. Louis and Washington D.C., hosting events, tap takeovers and offering custom brews, available exclusively at Pi. They plan to do the same in Cincinnati. Sommers also envisions a streetcar beer crawl once the line is running. The Cincinnati Streetcar will run on Main street past Pi.

Although created for internal design purposes, Pi agreed to share this video exclusively with nextSTL and UrbanCincy:

Sommers waited out the streetcar debate before committing to a Cincinnati location. “We choose our locations based on major transit lines, and feel the streetcar will be game-changing for Cincinnati,” Sommers told nextSTL. Pi’s original St. Louis location is located in the transit-rich Delmar Loop, the downtown St. Louis Pi sits atop a MetroLink station, and the D.C. restaurant is near both Metro Center and Chinatown Stations.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis Pi location.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis and Cincinnati Pi restaurant locations share many similarities (via Google Streetview).

The original Pi location opened in the City of Louis on Delmar Boulevard in 2008. Later that year, then Senator Obama visited St. Louis, speaking to an estimated 100,000 people at the Arch. An aide from Obama’s campaign was sent to get pizza and chose his favorite new pizzeria, Pi. The President became a fan and Sommers and Co-owner Frank Uible personally delivered Pi pizza to the White House for a 2009 dinner.

Capitalizing on the publicity, Pi opened a location in D.C.’s Penn Quarter in 2011. There are now four locations in the St. Louis area, including the Delmar Loop, Downtown St. Louis, Kirkwood, and Chesterfield. A Pi Truck also roams the roads and was used extensively to test the market in both downtown St. Louis and D.C. before opening brick and mortar locations. Sommers and Uible recently opened Gringo, a Mexican restaurant, in St. Louis’ Central West End, and have explored other restaurant concepts.

Pi was recently back in the Presidential spotlight, as it was recognized during the President’s weekly radio address for increasing employee minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The Pi mention is at 1:31 in the video below. The current minimum wage in Missouri is $7.50 an hour, and $7.95 in Ohio. Pi employees in Ohio will make a minimum wage of $10.10.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHA screen grab from above video shows street level design.

The AT580 building has been largely vacant since 2011 when Great American Insurance Company moved a couple blocks to Queen City Square, a building that happens to have been designed by Gyo Obata of the St. Louis architecture firm HOK. The 17-story tower was designed by RTKL Associates and Harry Hake & Partners for Southern Ohio Bank. Construction was completed in 1974.

The building sold in 2012 for $16M, the minimum bid allowed as a sheriff’s sale, after the owner had defaulted on its loan. The tower was again sold in early 2013 to Anderson Birkla Investment Partners of Indianapolis for $13.7 million. The new owner has proposed 179 apartments, 48,000 sf of retail space on two levels and 181,000 sf of office space, expected to be anchored by Fifth Third Bank. Last year, the Cincinnati city council approved of a 12-year property tax exemption valued at $4.8M.

If all goes according to plan, build out will begin in the coming weeks and a grand opening could be held in August.

This article is cross-posted at nextSTL.com

Cincinnati One of 30 Cities Worldwide to Participate in AngelHack Hackathon

Cincinnati will be one of 30 cities worldwide to participate in AngelHack’s spring Hackathon. The event will take place May 3-4 at UpTech’s campus in Covington.

Event organizers credit Cincinnati’s history of innovation and burgeoning tech culture as the reason for hosting the world’s largest hackathon competition, which first took place in December 2011 in San Francisco, and is expected to attract more than 6,000 developers and work on more than 1,500 projects.

“AngelHack’s new hackathon competition, The Whole Developer, will take place in 30 cities around the world and focuses on soft skills for developers, designers and entrepreneurs, guiding them towards better overall business acumen and an improved lifestyle,” Ian Chong, from AngelHack’s Global Outreach Team, told UrbanCincy.

The Cincinnati event, Chong says, will have developers participating in a two-day event that will include coaching from emotional intelligence and well-being experts, and even allow participants to work with yoga instructors.

The hope, organizers say, is that this spring’s event will develop participants in a way that makes them more well-rounded.

“The Whole Developer is a hacker that masters their technical and emotional intelligence, focuses on establishing a well-rounded lifestyle and strives for growth,” Sabeen Ali, AngelHack’s CEO, stated in a prepared release. “As innovators, we have the ability and responsibility to teach the industry, our employers and our predecessors better, healthier working habits and more well-rounded lifestyles.”

In addition to the technical and personal training, participants will also be competing for cash prizes and an opportunity to join AngelHack’s HACKcelerator program and a trip to San Francisco.

The event itself will kick-off on Saturday, May 3 at 9am and end the next at 1pm. Winners will then been decided and announced on Sunday at 3pm. Due to the marathon nature of the event where developers are anticipated to work for 24 hours straight, AngelHack will be providing food and pillows for those who need a brief moment to relax.

Chong says that AngelHack is looking for developers to work on projects that can “wow the crowd” and have the potential to improve peoples’ lives. Ideally, the projects should also be scalable in case the idea hits the big time. Product demos, he says, are also mandatory and participants are banned from using slide decks.

Overall, organizers are encouraging junior developers looking to improve their skills, senior developers looking to work more effectively with new members of the industry, designers of all skill sets and “serious” entrepreneurs that can add value to the teams.

Those interested in participating can register online. Additional information, a detailed schedule and tickets can be purchased through the event’s webpage as well.

CORRECTION: Event organizers have relocated the venue from the University of Cincinnati to UpTech’s campus in Covington. The event is now also free for everyone.