Construction Work Progressing on Hamilton’s $11.8M Artspace Lofts Project

From the construction of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, to aggressively marketing Pyramid Hill, to proclaiming itself The City of Sculpture, Hamilton has been actively reinventing itself as an arts-friendly and arts-centered community since the early 1990s. One of the most recent efforts, however, has been the development of the Artspace Hamilton Lofts, a partnership between Neighborhood Housing Services of Hamilton and Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects.

When finished next summer, the $11.8 million mixed-use development will include 42 market-rate rental units including studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom options. It will also include commercial and studio space on the first floor for burgeoning local artists.

Since its inception in the late 1970s, Artspace has transformed itself from simply being an advocate for the needs of artists into one of the premier non-profit developers of art-centric residential and commercial space in the United States. From artist cooperatives, to family lots, to non-residential projects, the Artspace Hamilton Lofts will continue their mission of creating unique, historic spaces for artists and arts organizations.

The Artspace project is also indicative of Hamilton’s efforts to reinvigorate its downtown by embracing its architectural past. Beginning in the 1960s and 70s, in an effort to appear more modern and match the neighboring structures that were being constructed, many of Hamilton’s downtown buildings had superficial metal facades installed on them that masked the original architectural details.

Fortunately, two of these surviving buildings, the Mehrum Building and Lindley Block, are in the process of having those metal facades removed as part of the Artspace project. The two properties were selected for the project after an extensive search, for the best location in Hamilton, over the past several years.

According to the Hamilton Lofts project lead, Sarah White, these facades have, in an ironic twist, protected the buildings from the elements over the years. While the structurally important aspects of the two century-old buildings will be left intact, the soft interiors are being completely gutted and rebuilt so that they will function as one.

The project was funded through a combination of public and private sources, including state historic tax credits and the National Endowment for the Arts and the Hamilton Community Foundation.

Project officials say that leasing will begin in the spring, and that those who are interested in applying for one of the residential or commercial art spaces can do so by attending their next informational session on Tuesday, November 18 at the Oxford Community Arts Center.

EDITORIAL NOTE: As part of our efforts to continue to keep you connected with what is happening in the urban areas of our region, we have added a new writer dedicated to covering Butler County’s historic urban cities of Hamilton and Middletown.

David A. Emery, a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Planning and former Hamilton resident, will be covering these cities in an effort to provide coverage of two other urban centers in our metropolitan region that boast significant populations and were 19th century boomtowns along the Great Miami River and Miami-Erie Canal.

Over many generations, both cities have been pulled into Cincinnati’s cultural and economic influence, and now essentially serve as satellite cities to the Queen City. The both, however, also are interesting places that are dealing with issues of urban redevelopment, diverse populations and changing economies.

What can cities do to roll out BRT faster?

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) introduced its first Metro*Plus route in 2013. This type of service is often described as “bus plus”, meaning that it has some benefits over standard bus service, but is not quite up to the level of true Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

According to a recent post on Portland Transport, rolling out small, incremental improvements to bus service (as SORTA has done) may be more effective than focusing all effort into a small number of BRT routes. It may also be the best way to improve bus service while minimizing the number of political hurdles:

Don’t focus on “BRT” as a separate product, just focus on bus service improvements. In much of Europe, there is no “BRT”–the standard for basic bus service (at least on corridors) often involves things like greater stop-spacing, offboard fare payment, larger vehicles with all-door boarding, signal priority, and exclusive lanes (though not necessarily for the entire length of the route). [...]

In many cases, do these quietly, without much fanfare, and without a big splashy project. Big splashy big-ticket projects are more likely to attract political opposition and political opportunism. As Harry S Truman said, “it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Can Metro, Megabus Come to Terms on Moving the Intercity Bus Operator Into the Riverfront Transit Center?

Following the announcement last week that Megabus would relocate its downtown Cincinnati stop to a parking lot at 691 Gest Street in Queensgate, there has been a new round of public calls for the intercity bus operator to move its stop into the underutilized Riverfront Transit Center.

The move is just the latest in a series of moves after Megabus was forced out of its original stop at Fourth and Race due to construction taking place at Mabley Place, and complaints from neighbors about noise and loitering. Those complaints have since plagued Megabus as it has tried to find a new stop somewhere in the center city.

Perhaps the most troublesome complaint has been allegations of public urination at Megabus stops by their riders. As a result, city leaders have been looking for a more permanent stop location that includes public restrooms. This has led to a number of people to suggest Findlay Market and the Horseshoe Casino, near the existing Greyhound station, as possible locations.

But through all of this there appears to be a growing sentiment that the Riverfront Transit Center be used not only to accommodate Megabus, but all intercity bus operators serving Cincinnati.

“There is, of course, plenty of parking available, and riders can wait in a safe and secure enclosed area, out of the elements and with restrooms available,” stated Derek Bauman, urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Megabus will benefit by finally having a permanent home that was built for just this purpose.”

In addition to there being plenty of parking nearby, the Riverfront Transit Center, designed to accommodate up to 500 buses and 20,000 passengers per hour, also has plenty of capacity.

Beyond Megabus, there may be an even greater upside for other operators, like Greyhound and Barons Bus, to relocate into the Riverfront Transit Center.

“Greyhound could benefit by moving from and selling its current location near the casino, which would then be ripe for development as a hotel or other higher use. This would also save the company millions in capital dollars to fund needed upgrades and rehab of the current facility.”

As has been noted by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), someone who has served as a leader on trying to find a solution to this problem, there are difficulties with getting Megabus and others into the transit center neatly tucked beneath Second Street.

The Riverfront Transit Center is technically owned by the City of Cincinnati and operated by Metro, which uses the facility Metro*Plus layover, special events and leases some of its east and west aprons for parking. According to transit agency officials, these operations generate approximately $480,000 in annual revenue and net roughly $170,000 in annual profit for Metro.

Therefore, any new operators or changes to this structure would not only present logistical issues, but also potentially negatively affect Metro’s finances unless new revenues are collected – something Megabus has not been particularly keen of thus far.

“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, told UrbanCincy. “As a tax-supported public service, Metro would need to recover the increased costs related to maintenance, utilities, security, etc. from Megabus, which is a for-profit company.”

Hilvers also stated that while Metro is open to the idea, that there would also be some legal and regulatory issues that would also need to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the Riverfront Transit Center seems to be the logical place to consolidate intercity bus operators. The facility is enclosed, includes bathrooms, waiting areas, is centrally located and within close proximity to other transportation services such as Government Square, Cincinnati Streetcar and Cincy Red Bike.

“Welcoming visitors to Cincinnati at the RTC at The Banks showcases our city and is much more welcoming than a random street corner in Queensgate outside of downtown,” Bauman emphasized. “This just makes sense, it’s as simple as that. Everyone involved should continue do whatever is necessary to come to an agreement and make it happen.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) did not respond to UrbanCincy‘s request for comment on this story.

Are the years of suburban corporate campuses behind us?

Many things have changed in America since the golden age of suburbia. The country is now much more diverse and tech-focused, and young people seem to be ignoring The American Dream in a pursuit of their own, newer ideals. One of the relics of The American Dream is the suburban corporate campus, and its death may have just been signaled. More from Better! Cities & Towns:

Smartly clad structures perfectly reflected their pinstripe suited, clean-cut occupants. It was a near perfect match of sociology and architecture. The male breadwinner toiling all day inside a glass box, coming home to the American Dream: a detached “Colonial style” house with a manicured lawn. The Betty Crocker cookbook of that era advised housewives to have a mixed drink ready for their husband’s eagerly expected return, along with tips on how to set a table when the domestic help had the day off.  We all know how that dream turned out.

Some Boomers smugly claim that Millennials will fall back into line as soon as they have children. Well, guess what? They aren’t having kids. They aren’t even marrying. Nor are they buying cars. And not because they can’t afford them. They don’t want them.

The folks who run Weyerhaeuser are a smart bunch. I’m sure they started projecting out how long it would be before they would have a difficult time recruiting younger workers to reverse commute.

Collective Espresso to Open Second Location in Northside Later This Fall

Northsiders will soon have another place to get their coffee fix. Collective Espresso is expanding from one slightly hard to find location to a second, with the new Collective Espresso Northside opening this fall in the space previously occupied by Cluxton Alley Coffee Roasters.

It is a strange location, with the side entrance between Fabricate and Happy Chicks Bakery on Hamilton Avenue, but the main entrance accessed from a courtyard at Vandalia Avenue and Cluxton Alley.

The fact that the roof of half of the room is made of glass further highlights how unusual the space is. It feels like a secluded garden cottage that just happens to have a sharp new coffee shop with first class coffee, and is somehow calmly tucked away just steps from the bustle of Hamilton Avenue.

Anyone familiar with the original Collective Espresso, on Woodward near Main Street in Over-the-Rhine, will recognize that the new space is run by the same people.

Owners Dustin Miller and Dave Hart say that they wanted the new shop to have the same philosophy, but with slightly different methods. Where the original location has clean lines but skews rustic, the new location is almost modernist, with white tile and smooth wood counters instead of the barnwood of the original location.

There will be seating at the bar and a few tables, but not much of it. The owners expect the shop to seat about 12 people, similar to their OTR location.

Miller and Hart say that Collective Espresso Northside will feature a Synesso three group espresso machine made in Seattle, and will have coffee from Deeper Roots in Cincinnati, Quills in Louisville, and a rotating cast of national roasters including Intelligentsia, Kuma, Herkimer, Madcap, and Four Barrel. They say they will also use Hartzler Milk from Wooster, Ohio.

While Collective Espresso naturally specializes in espresso drinks and pour over coffee, the Northside location will utilize French Press coffee instead of the Chemex method used in Over-the-Rhine.

Similar to Over-the-Rhine, though, the owners say that Northside has a lot going for it and wanted to be part of the progress.

“We feel like there is a lot of momentum in Northside,” Hart told UrbanCincy. “It’s nice to have new neighbors like The Littlefield in addition to places that have been at it for years like Melt, Picnic + Pantry, and Northside Tavern.”

As with the OTR location, many of the decorations and accessories will be supplied by local businesses, with the frames done by Frameshop, the plants done by Megan Strasser at Fern Studio, the terrariums built by Jessie Cundiff, the signs done by Ink & Hammer, and the aprons made by Noble Denim.

Collective Espresso Northside will open later this fall, and have hours of operation from 7am to 4pm on weekdays and 8am to 4pm on weekends. Cluxton Alley Coffee Roasters, meanwhile, will continue to sell coffee at Picnic + Pantry, Fabricate, and at the Northside Farmer’s Market.