Cincinnati shifts to 100 percent clean energy

As UrbanCincy first projected in February, city officials have decided to buy 100 percent renewable energy credits. In the process, Cincinnati will be getting rid of its allegiance to Duke Energy. From the Huffington Post:

Today, Duke Energy found out that more than 50,000 commercial and residential electricity users in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio are dumping Duke and shifting to 100 percent clean energy. Cincinnati is a trendsetter: it is the first city in Ohio, and the first of its size in the nation, to go 100 percent green.

After years of work, ambassadors in Over-the-Rhine are finally reality

Last June the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) expanded the clean and safe ambassador service from the Central Business District to historic Over-the-Rhine (OTR). The move came after neighborhood leaders, businesses and residents called for such expansion to help protect the progress made there over the past half-decade.

3CDC partnered with the Over-the-Rhine Chamber of Commerce, Greater Cincinnati Foundation and The Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation in order to make the $100,000 endeavor a reality.

“This ambassador service will greatly compliment the ongoing development in Over-the-Rhine,” stated Chad Munitz, Executive Vice President of Development & Operations of 3CDC. “With more residents moving into the area and the extra activity in the community it is a great asset to have an extra pair of eyes on the street helping with safety and additional help with the cleanliness of the neighborhood.”

While the ambassadors appear to be a welcome addition to the neighborhood, their presence comes five years after the idea was originally pursued.

An Over-the-Rhine Ambassador cleans up trash along the sidewalk outside of the busy Taste of Belgium Cafe. Photograph by Randy A. Simes for UrbanCincy.

“The whole idea was about jump starting OTR,” explained Michael Redmond, owner of several neighborhood businesses including Neons Unplugged, and former director of the now defunct Vitality Over-the-Rhine that spearheaded initial conversations years ago. “We had ambassadors in the neighborhood about nine or ten years ago, and we thought it was the easiest thing to bring back. It was a way to make an impact through cleaning up the streets.”

The new service includes two teams of ambassadors that walk the streets of Over-the-Rhine. According to 3CDC officials, the clean team works seven days a week focusing on litter, graffiti removal, weed abatement, and pressure washing. The safety team is meant to compliment those services and patrols the neighborhood Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 3:30pm to midnight. Officials say that the safety team is responsible for panhandling interactions, bike patrols and safety patrols.

Initially the ambassador service was only funded through the end of 2011 with the seed funding. The service has since been extended through the end of 2012 thanks to an additional $113,500 in funding as part of the Over-the-Rhine District Management plan, and neighborhood leaders say they are committed to extending the effort indefinitely.

“It’s extremely important for the area, and we will continue to support this program as we seek new ways to fund it because it’s so crucial to the success of the neighborhood,” explained Anastasia Mileham, Vice President of Communications with 3CDC.

According to Redmond, one of the initial hurdles towards making the ambassador service a reality in 2007 was the determination that the property values in Over-the-Rhine would not support a special improvement district like the one that funds Downtown Cincinnati Inc., which is responsible for the Downtown Ambassadors.

Thanks to the new partnerships, that hurdle has been cleared for the time being, but long-term success may hinge upon a future expansion of the special improvement district used in the Central Business District.

“It is a lot cheaper to have the ambassadors out on the streets, than having a trashy neighborhood,” Redmond concluded. “There are more bars today, but the streets are cleaner than they were when everything was closed down. The ambassadors are a big reason for this, along with the new residents moving into the neighborhood.”

Redmond went on the say that the influx of new businesses also helps the neighborhood, and that many of the new businesses, including his own, would be willing to do and participate more in improving the area.

“I had not put much thought into the ambassadors, but noticed them not too long ago,” noted Taste of Belgium owner Jean-Francois Flechet. “I think that it’s a good idea to help keep the neighborhood clean, and it can also add to the perception of safety…it definitely cannot hurt.”

Note: Randy Simes worked with Vitality Over-the-Rhine from 2006 to 2007 on creating a volunteer ambassador program in the historic neighborhood, and studying the feasibility of a special improvement district there.

Benihana closes downtown Cincinnati location

After originally announcing they would temporarily close in order to remodel, Benihana has now announced that they will shutter their location in downtown Cincinnati. From the Business Courier:

Benihana (Nasdaq: BNHN) sent an email to customers Friday that said the downtown restaurant, located at 126 E. Sixth St., is closed for business. The email directs customers to visit the company’s other Cincinnati-area location in Tri-County.

Coffee Shops and the Post-Industrial City

Urban coffee shops have long served as community focal points where people come to gather, relax and debate. But what role do these ‘third places’ play in our post-industrial cities? From Urban Relations:

Coffee helps us. It helps us get out of bed, it raises our productivity and promotes creativity, it’s the driving force of conversations and the fuel for writers and bloggers. This piece is also written in a coffee bar, my personal favorite. Sitting here consuming coffee just helps me through the day and through my work, or at least gives me the illusion that my productivity benefits from the consumption experience.

New SORTA Board member to focus on system integration, enhanced bus service

Former UrbanCincy contributor Brad Thomas has been nominated to fill a vacant seat on the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority’s (SORTA) Board of Trustees. Thomas currently works as an attorney with The Morgeson Law Office, and was appointed by the Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory (D).

The 13-member board is comprised of seven appointees from the City of Cincinnati and six from Hamilton County which also uses three of its appointments to represent Butler, Clermont and Warren counties.

Government Square Transit Hub in downtown Cincinnati. Photograph by Randy A. Simes for UrbanCincy.

Cincinnati City Council is expected to approve the appointment today at 2pm, which would clear the path for Thomas to officially join the SORTA Board of Trustees on May 1. In an exclusive interview with UrbanCincy, Thomas said that he intends to focus his attention on integrating the Cincinnati Streetcar with the existing Metro bus system, while also promoting enhanced bus service and bus rapid transit corridors.

“Improving public transportation is incredibly important to the City of Cincinnati and our region,” stated Thomas. “From connecting people to jobs, spurring economic development and helping the environment, the benefits of improved transit service are considerable.”

To date, Thomas has perhaps been best known for his work promoting the Cincinnati Streetcar. Since 2008, he has served in a variety of public involvement and engagement roles including, but not limited to, the operation of the CincyStreetcar Blog and the defeat of two anti-rail transit campaigns waged in 2009 and 2011.

“Expanding ridership is an important goal for Metro,” Thomas explained. “In addition to the Cincinnati Streetcar attracting new transit user, bus rapid transit corridors can make Metro more car competitive and increase ridership.”

Thomas currently resides in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and is an active member of the Over-the-Rhine Brewery District, Cincinnatians for Progress, and is a former trustee of Clifton Town Meeting and the Mayor’s Young Professionals Kitchen Cabinet.

His appointment will make him the youngest-ever SORTA board member, eclipsing the record established two years ago by Tom Hodges. Thomas will fill the unexpired term of Jason Riveiro. His appointment will become effective May 1, 2012.