Macy’s Music Festival headlining busy weekend in downtown Cincinnati

The Macy’s Music Festival takes place this weekend in downtown Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium. Nearly 50,000 R&B and soul fans from around the region are expected to pour into the stadium and nearby venues as they are treated to performances by Jaheim, Melanie Fiona, Teena Marie, Charlie Wilson, Cameo, K’Jon, En Vogue, Maze, Raheem DeVaughn, and Erykah Badu who was added to replace Jill Scott. The two-day music festival is expected to have a local economic impact of $20 million.

Jill Scott canceled her appearance at this year’s festival after learning of an illness in the family. Her absence is certainly a loss for the festival, but the addition of Erykah Badu is one of the few replacements that is able to fill Scott’s proverbial shoes in the festival lineup.

The music festival is complimenting a host of other events that are expected to keep Cincinnati’s center city packed all weekend long.  One such event is the annual convention for the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA) which is expected to draw 5,000 people from around the world, and create an economic impact of $3 million.  The first-place Reds are also in town and hosting the Atlanta Braves in a three game series that is expected to draw three sell-out crowds totaling more than 120,000 fans over the weekend.

Tickets for the Macy’s Music Festival range from $48 to $88 and can be purchased online, or by calling 1-800-452-3132 for group sales.  Performances begin at 7:30pm both nights at Paul Brown Stadium (map).  In the mean time, enjoy ‘Other Side of the Game’ by Erykah Badu.

Watch This presents King Kong on Fountain Square – 7/31

“Watch This” is a plan to watch all of the American Film Institute’s top 100 films in one year.  Creators Alex Shebar and Allison Johnson are now more than half-way through their mission.  After putting on screenings in venues ranging from the 20th Century Theatre in Oakley to individuals’ homes, they are ready to take over Fountain Square for their biggest event yet.

On Saturday, July 31 at 8:30pm, Watch This will be showing the original 1933 version of King Kong on Fountain Square’s video board located atop Macy’s.  The event is free, and it is recommended you bring a blanket or lawn chair to sit on.  The screening is coincides with Fountain Square’s weekly movie night that regularly draws large crowds to Cincinnati’s central plaza.  For some additional entertainment, come early and watch Over the Hedge, which will be playing at 7pm.

Adult beverages, soft drinks, Skyline cheese coneys, soft pretzels, nachos, candy bars, and kettle corn will be available for purchase.  You can RSVP for the event on Facebook, and follow the Watch This blog for a complete listing of screenings, and follow the #watchthis tag on Twitter for additional updates.

After Issue 9 victory, next generation of leaders need to stay involved

This past Thursday evening more than 40 people crowded themselves in a meeting room at the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce. The group was a diverse collection of individuals who had gathered for one purpose: to address safety concerns in the Main Street/Mulberry Street/McMicken Street area of Over-the-Rhine. The three policemen and chamber members in attendance could not believe the turnout, and mentioned their pleasant state of surprise several times.

Safety sector meetings like this are held regularly throughout the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood as engaged members of the community look to find out how they can continue to improve their neighborhood.  At this particular meeting, the majority of the people in attendance were under the age of 35. The common thread, beyond age, was that they were members of the community, either living in or around the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, who wanted to help make a difference.

The momentous build-up and defeat of Issue 9, the anti-passenger rail amendment, in last year’s local election sparked a wildfire of community activism not seen in this area for some time. For the first time in my relatively young life, I became totally and thoroughly passionate about doing all I could to inform and educate others about the importance of rail transit in Cincinnati. It felt pretty good to be involved in a cause I believed in, and a strong bond was formed between those who spent their time rallying to defeat Issue 9.

Fast forward to today, and there is no doubt that the Cincinnati Streetcar will be built, and the 3C Rail Corridor plan is moving ahead thanks to our efforts to defeat the anti-passenger rail amendment.  With these goals accomplished, many of us now must figure out what to do with all this energy, enthusiasm and excitement we have for the urban core.

I challenge you to get involved in your community.

There are countless ways to give your time and effort to strengthen and build your respective neighborhood. From participating in community councils to volunteering to serve with neighborhood groups, getting involved in your community not only builds up the place where you live, but it creates bonds between neighbors and truly builds a sense of camaraderie and sense of place.  For too long, too many have chosen to close their doors and picket fences.   Electing instead to stay inside a safe, often isolated, bubble of Anytown suburbia.  The results have turned neighbors into strangers in cases where it should be anything but.

It is not just Over-the-Rhine that calls for your involvement. There are 52 neighborhoods within the City of Cincinnati, and many more throughout the region, that all have needs, goals, and a heavily established “old guard” that is eventually going to want to retire. The time is now for this generation to become actively involved so that the torch of community responsibility can be passed to us.

As I looked around the room on Thursday evening I was surprised to see that I knew at least a third of the people in attendance. They are not just my friends. They are my neighbors, my community. And we are ready and excited to invest in our area, strengthening Cincinnati and making it an even better place to live.

We Love Cincinnati

Dojo Gelato business exceeding expectations, production increased 32%

[This story was originally published in the Cincinnati Business Courier on July 19, 2010. Visit the original story for more comments, thoughts and opinions on Dojo Gelato's success at Findlay Market - Randy.]

Michael Christner moved to Cincinnati from Austin, TX last year and opened Dojo Gelato at Cincinnati’s historic Findlay Market. Christner expected business might be good due to the limited amount of competition in Cincinnati relative to Austin, but so far business has exceeded expectations for local entrepreneur.

Christner follows a few basic principles in his gelato prep kitchen which he refers to as a “laboratory.” He makes the gelato and sorbetto fresh and in small runs with no artificial ingredients. Milk, pure cane sugar, and cream is all that is used to create their gelatos, while the sorbettos only contain fruit, pure cane sugar, and water. Customers will also find a product free of artificial preservatives, unnatural stabilizers, powders or gels, or hormone dairy products.

“I’ve been like wow, this is working…it’s really working,” Christner said about Dojo Gelato’s success thus far. “When I opened, the Dojo Cart wasn’t even budgeted into the business plan, but we always thought it would be great to do five or six special events a year. With business being so good, the cart has become reality much quicker.”

The quicker arrival of the DojoCart now serving people at special events throughout Cincinnati is not the only mark of success for the Italian-style ice cream maker. Christner says that Dojo Gelato has also increased production, grown its staff, while also increasing sales.

So far sales at Dojo Gelato’s store at Findlay Market and the new DojoCart are 16% higher than what was originally forecasted, and in May, Dojo Gelato set two consecutive sales records at Findlay Market. The business growth has also accelerated plans for increased production. In March, Dojo Gelato purchased an additional gelato batch freezer from Italy that allows Christner to now produce 52 gallons of gelati an hour which represents a 32% increase in production since the business opened in August 2009. During that same time the staff has increased from one employee in last summer, to five employees today.

“It’s been a gradual incline, with every month being a little better than the month before,” Christner explained. “I take my product very seriously, but at the end of the day it’s just food and it’s more about bringing people together.”

According to Christner, Dojo Gelato customers represent a wide variety of people together that includes a business and neighborhood crowd during the week at lunch; older individuals, tourists, and suburbanites on the weekends; and lots of families on Sundays. Young adults between the ages of 20 to 40 are also a big part of Dojo Gelato’s daily business.

“I wanted to do this since I was 20 years old, and I’m 34 now. This is not just some hobby, I live, eat, and breathe everything Dojo Gelato,” Christner emphasized. “I’ve realized that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and everything needs to fall into place for future expansion efforts.”

Dojo Gelato is open at Findlay Market (map) Tuesday through Friday from 9am to 6pm, Saturday from 8am to 6pm, and Sunday from 10am to 4pm. Those out and about can find the DojoCart at the Wyoming Farmers Market on Tuesdays, Wednesdays at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center for their summer concert series through July, Saturdays on Fountain Square for movie nights, and at the Hyde Park Farmers Market every Sunday.

Former Boss Cox home to become new Clifton Library Branch

The Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County will move its Clifton Branch from Ludlow Avenue to Parkview Manor nearby.  The $3.5 million project will require a full renovation of the 1895 home for notorious Cincinnati politician George Barnsdale “Boss” Cox.

Once the home of arguably Cincinnati’s most influential politician, the 10,000 square-foot Parkview Manor was designed by the famed Samuel Hannaford and is located directly across from Burnet Woods near the intersection of Brookline, Wentworth and Jefferson avenues (map).  Hannaford’s trademark use of limestone coursing and geometrically shaped rooms are visible here.  The architect’s firm, Hannaford and Sons, completed over 300 buildings in the Cincinnati area, including both Music Hall and City Hall.

Boss Cox meanwhile was known for controlling the goings on in Cincinnati through the Reform movement of the late 1800s. While his methods of governance were dictatorial and corrupt, Cox also made contributions to the city, including street cleaning and developing the plan for the ill-fated subway system.

The existing Clifton Branch of the Public Library is currently one of the busiest, and smallest, in the entire county-wide system. Its location on Ludlow Avenue does not have a dedicated meeting space, yet last year the branch presented 232 programs which were attended by 5,281 people.  The programs included a wide variety of topics including a weekly preschool story time and an English as a second language conversation group.

Circulation at the Clifton Branch has increased more than 12 percent over the past four years, which library officials believe is evidence that demand for the library is far exceeding the current capacity. The new location would be four times the size of the current building on Ludlow Avenue.  The new facility would also allow for a larger material collection space, more computer space, a dedicated children’s area, program room, teen area, and an easily accessible location with 16 parking spots in an extremely walkable neighborhood.

In order to make this dream a reality, library officials need to raise $3.5 million to renovate Parkview Manor and complete the move.  The library is actively seeking contributions for this project, and those interested in helping can contact development director John Reusing at (513) 369-4591 or through the project’s web page.

Fort Washington Way caps to provide valuable real estate

Each Wednesday in July, UrbanCincy has highlighted Fort Washington Way (FWW), the I-71/US-50 trench bisecting the Cincinnati’s central riverfront from its central business district. Part one of the series discussed what the area looked like prior to reconstruction a decade ago, and how that reconstruction made way for the development along Cincinnati’s central riverfront. Part two discussed some of the unseen assets included in the project that are saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Last week’s article highlighted even more of the unique features that contributing many societal benefits to the region. To conclude the series, this week will feature ideas for future development around Fort Washington Way.

When the stretch of highway was redesigned a decade ago, the better design allowed for several acres of space to be reclaimed for uses that are more productive than a highway. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was located on land that was once a highway, as are portions of The Banks development which is currently under construction. Plans for the second phase of The Banks also will make use of the reclaimed land from the redesign. The Banks, bookended by our major league stadia and highlighted by the Freedom Center, is a development project that will fundamentally transform this city’s urban core. It was only made possible through redesigning the stretch of highway and reclaiming under-utilized land on Cincinnati’s urban riverfront.

When the Federal government chose to build I-71 through downtown Cincinnati, they chose to do so in an area that already had a major roadway on it. As a result, local authorities were allowed to maintain the rights to the space directly above the federal highway. Generally, when the Federal government builds highways, they maintain the air rights so that they can better control the factors that impact the highway’s utility. In this case, Cincinnati’s ability to maintain control over these rights ensures that the area can be used to its maximum local utility.

To maximize the utility of the space, officials could choose to install 600 feet-long caps over the highway. As has been discussed previously in this series, the reconstruction of Fort Washington Way ten years ago included building infrastructure necessary to support such caps. Structurally, these caps could support several feet of dirt, allowing the city to create a fascinating, unique pocket park in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. Nearby residents would benefit greatly from a place to walk their dogs. Having the retail, office, and residential space at the Banks surrounded by green space on the south with the new riverfront park and on the north with a park above the highway could provide a stunning and dramatic space.

However, some view more park space in that location as unnecessary, and that the real estate in that particular location is too valuable to be planted over. As a result, it is likely in the city’s best interest to explore options that would generate tax revenue. According to engineers responsible for the project, the caps could be built in such as way so that developers would not be restricted with the building materials they use. However, as the height of a building increases, so too does the building’s weight. As a result, buildings on the caps would likely be limited to about four stories in height.

With that particular height, the new development would provide an aesthetic feature that would visually link The Banks to the rest of the central business district. When the first phase of The Banks is complete, portions of mixed-use development will rise six stories above Second Street. Directly to the north of this area sits the trench of Fort Washington Way, followed immediately by highrises like the E.W. Scripps Tower and Cincinnati Enquirer Building. Developers could opt for a design on the caps that would have first floor restaurant or retail options, with offices or residents above.

One of the worst features of the old Fort Washington Way that the new design did not completely fix is that the highway bisects downtown from the Ohio River. Capping the highway and building several-story, mixed-use buildings on it would go a long way to rectifying that disconnect. Because of the required space between the current bridges over the highway and the caps, entrances to these buildings would have to be from Second or Third Street. This particular design would allow comfortable transition north and south between the waterfront and downtown, but would also keep pedestrians moving east and west in the city.

A task force of engineers recently convened to study the feasibility of building and installing these caps. Their task not only includes determining the exact structural capabilities, but also projected costs. Armed with this information, city officials and developers could begin discussions shortly. Should the city push for a unique park over the highway? Or would you rather see a the area built with multi-use buildings?