Cincinnati: A Tale of Two Brands

For a city that has so much to be proud of, Cincinnati and her citizens seem to have something of a self image problem. For all the positives going on around town, many feel it’s easier to focus on the negative. This poses a problem as the city and the people in it work to establish a seat at the table among other world class cities. Despite the Queen City’s history, heritage, architecture, development, and sense of place, the question remains: How does the rest of the world see us?

Though the jury is out on how recent reality TV series is affecting our image, Councilmember Laure Quinlivan has made Cincinnati’s brand image one of her priorities. At a recent Quality of Life committee meeting, Councilmember Quinlivan focused on the topic, bringing in professionals from regional and local tourisim and economic development groups to discuss the current image that Cincinnati has established for itself.

“Cincinnati used to be known for Reds owner Marge Schott, and then racial troubles, and now we’re known for… what exactly? I’m curious to know what people across the country think of when they think of Cincinnati, and look forward to hearing from the people whose job it is to know,” says Quinlivan.

She requested four different groups who market Cincinnati’s image to present to the committee members. The key focus of groups like Cincinnati USA, HYPE Cincinnati, and the city’s economic development office is to market Cincinnati as a great place to live, work and play across the board – not just “Young Professionals,” but to visitors and potential conventions.

The various groups have been working tirelessly to promote the city’s image all over, in order to bring in people who might not have considered the city otherwise. They have pulled data both from visitors and residents, to determine who is coming in to the region and why they are staying. “The image that we’re promoting (for Cincinnati) is that this is a good place to do business. Businesses want to see numbers – we have shown the companies that are here, the revenues, the tax info, demographic data,” said Patrick Ewing with the city’s Economic Development office.

The results are surprising. People are coming in to visit from all over the country. Not only cities nearby, like Indianapolis and Louisville, but others farther away, in Charleston, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Chicago and even New York City check out the Cincinnati USA website for tourism information to find out more about what’s going on around town.

According to the report he presented, 63 to 80 percent of the city’s visitors are loyal repeats, who come in, for example, to see Reds games or a festival year after year. One of the biggest new developments will be the 2012 World Choir Games, which will bring in over 20 thousand performers from over 80 countries to Cincinnati.

In 2010 the city launched ChooseCincy.com as a way for potential visitors and new residents and businesses to see all the reasons to come to the city.

“One of the pieces we tried to draw out in there is that Cincinnati has a small town feel, there is a small town affordability, but with big city amenities,” said Doug Moorman, president and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “There are major league sports, theater, we have all five of the major art disciplines represented here. You don’t have to go to Chicago or New York – you can be in Cincinnati and have those big city amenities but also afford to indulge in them.”

These groups, along with others in the city, are working to overcome the negative voices and embrace the Queen City for what she really is – world class.

Cincinnati skyline photograph by UrbanCincy contributor Thadd Fiala.

CPA to host event showcasing architectural gems of the Westside this Saturday

Cincinnati proudly boasts fantastic architectural gems. Downtown landmarks like Carew Tower, the Roebling Suspension Bridge, Music Hall, and Union Terminal help to establish a unique sense of place. Uptown, features at the Zoo, University of Cincinnati, and Christ Hospital demonstrate a range in architectural styles found here.

But while Cincinnati’s iconic landmarks leave a lasting impressing on residents and visitors alike, it is often the smaller, lesser-known architectural features that make this city a fantastic place to live.

On Saturday, January 29 at 10am, Cincinnati Preservation Association (CPA) will present Little Known Jewels of the West Side, an overview of hidden historic treasures of Cincinnati’s West Side neighborhoods. The event will be led by UC alumnus Dave Zelman, AIA, a registered architect in the hospitality studio of FRCH Design.

Saturday’s event will be held at the Hauck House located at 812 Dayton Street in the West End neighborhood. This beautiful Italianate stone townhouse on “Millionaire’s Row” was CPA’s original headquarters.

Reservations are required due to limited space. Contact CPA by calling (513) 721-4506 or emailing info@cincinnatipreservation.org. Admission is just $5 thanks to the support from Comey & Shepherd Realtors, City Office which is sponsoring CPA’s Winter Programs series at the Hauck House.

Belgian immigrant finds business success in Cincinnati

[This story was originally published in the Cincinnati Business Courier print edition on January 21, 2011. Visit the original story for more comments, thoughts and opinions on Taste of Belgium’s business growth – Randy.]

 Nearly four years ago, Belgian immigrant Jean-Francois Flechet baked and sold his first waffles at Cincinnati’s historic Findlay Market. Since then Flechet has seen his waffle business grow in sales, staff, locations, cities, offerings and exposure. Now that Taste of Belgium has opened its second Cincinnati location at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC), Flechet has his eyes on yet even more growth.

“The food is creative and fresh,” Stephanie A. Creech, external relations manager with the NURFC exclaimed. “Additionally, we’re all looking forward to their upcoming early morning opening so that those who arrive early to the Freedom Center or who park in The Banks can enjoy a fresh cup of coffee or a latte and a waffle before starting their work day.”

The first day Taste of Belgium was at Findlay Market Flechet says he sold 50 waffles. Now, he states, they serve hundreds of people on an average Saturday and baked over 1,000 waffles this past Labor Day at the historic market.

The passionate Flechet, who can often be found offering up free samples of his popular waffles at Findlay Market, says that the early help of Jean-Robert de Cavel, Jean-Philippe Solnom, Bryan Madison and Johan Kars is what has allowed him to reach the level of success Taste of Belgium currently enjoys in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.

“At first I was doing absolutely everything myself. I was making the dough at one of Jean-Robert’s restaurants and I would bring it to Findlay early in the morning and would start baking at the back of Madison’s produce store.”

Three-and-a-half years later Flechet now has close to 30 employees, one of the most prominent spaces inside Findlay Market, Taste of Belgium at the NorthStar Café inside the NURFC, locations in Columbus’ North Market and Wexner Center, and is about to sign an agreement that will give the Taste of Belgium business its first stand alone store that will offer “much more than waffles.”

Flechet says that he has signed a letter of intent for a store located inside the Gateway Quarter of Over-the-Rhine. Once open, he says that Taste of Belgium will centralize all of their production activities for the Cincinnati region there, include a bar, and affordable food offerings. But Flechet is not content with simply appeasing the masses flocking to the Gateway Quarter.

“I made vegan waffles this past National Vegan Day so that my friend Dan Korman at Park+Vine could finally have a waffle. We are also making French macaroons with the new pastry chef we have on board.”

Following his expansion in Cincinnati, the plan is to start franchising the business elsewhere in the United States.

“Cincinnati is a great place to run a test [business]; if the concept works in Cincinnati it can work anywhere,” explained Flechet. “We are also working on a new website to improve shipping, and we hope to start producing our waffle irons in the U.S. soon, but right now I’m just having a lot of fun.”

Taste of Belgium photography by UrbanCincy contributer Thadd Fiala.

2011 Winter Blues Fest takes place this weekend at the Southgate House

This weekend, the 5th annual Cincy Winter Blues Fest takes over Newport’s historic Southgate House. With shows both Friday and Saturday evening  the winter version of the blues festival promises to be another hit after selling out last year.

Due to the demand on tickets, the Cincy Blues Society has decided to make tickets available online, and at a discounted rate, ahead of the weekend for the first time. Tickets are also available in advance at Shake It Records and at the Southgate House itself, though both of these places are cash only.

The Cincy Blues Society is dedicated to raising money to keep blues music alive. This winter festival, just like the annual outdoor event that takes place on the banks of the Ohio River each summer,  is as much a fundraiser as it is a musical showcase.

There are local and national artists that will be filling all the stages at Southgate House to benefit the Blues in the Schools program which is dedicated to keeping blues music alive for the next generation. There will also be a compilation CD available benefiting the program.  To kick off each nigh,t the Blues in the Schools band will be gracing the ballroom stage at 6pm. Music is scheduled to run each night until about 12:30am which makes for quite a fun evening. It is not often that patrons get a chance to enjoy music from each of the three stages at Southgate House, so this provides a unique opportunity.

Much like its local media sponsor, 89.7 FM WNKU which recently announced some bold acquisitions to expand their reach from Dayton to Huntington, WV, the Cincy Winter Blues Fest promises to be bigger and better than ever. Get your tickets early or you may miss out on a chance to boogie down this weekend.

Transit guide explains Cincinnati bus riding basics

A good map makes it easy to see what’s important. Highways don’t look the same as local roads on a good street map; similarly, major transit corridors shouldn’t look the same on a map as a bus that only runs twice a day.  Cincinnati activist Nathan Wessel created a map that highlights the most valuable and convenient Metro bus corridors – the transit equivalent of major arterial streets – and separates them from inconvenient and specialized routes.

“These frequent routes are the backbone of Cincinnati’s transit infrastructure, and understanding them is vital to riding the bus without stress,” Wessel explained. “A good transit map not only needs to represent spatial relationships, but show where and WHEN transit exists.”

Click to enlarge (PDF)

One of the biggest challenges of using transit in Cincinnati is understanding it. The new rider is presented with a complicated fare structure as well as a mess of schedules and maps so overwhelming and disjointed that many would-be riders give up. Metro is making strides towards streamlining the system, but in the interim, Wessel’s map makes understanding how the buses work a lot easier.

This map reduces the jumble to a legible system with an easily visible structure of primary, secondary, and tertiary routes that change clearly in both space and time. “The map is laid out so that people who are new to riding the bus can quickly and easily see which route they need to take, and how to do it,” Wessel said.

Long term, the goal is to have the map printed, distributed, and available potential transit riders. For example, the easy to understand transit map could be included in a welcome binder presented to incoming freshmen at UC, or handed to new out-of-town P&G employees looking for a place to live on a bus line. When printed, the map folds into an approximately 3-inch by 3-inch square with downtown routing information and some other important specifics on the back side.

Wessels is still looking to raise funds to make his idea a reality, as well as official acknowledgment from the the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority, which operates Metro, and the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky.