$27M LibertyElm Project Exposes Cincinnati’s Urban Development Struggles

Source 3 Development recently announced their intention to develop a $27 million mixed-use infill project at the northwest corner of Liberty Street and Elm Street.

The project’s prominent location near Findlay Market and along the streetcar line, combined with its unusual large tract of cleared land, grabbed headlines, particularly as the developer promised to create 118 apartments and 15,000 square feet of street-level retail. All of the retail, and 90 apartments, will be developed in the new structure, the remaining 28 apartments will be developed within four historic structures that will be preserved.

In addition to being bold, the proposal also illustrates the conflicts challenging Cincinnati’s development community as the city continues its rapid physical and social transformation.

Historic Preservation
The site is large and includes an unusual amount of cleared land. Of course, this land used to be occupied by historic structures.

Prior to the wave of investment that has changed the face of Over-the-Rhine, these historic buildings were left to decay to the point where City Hall issued emergency demolition permits for them. Since their demolition, the site has been used by Findlay Market as a community garden.

Cincinnati developers continue to be challenged with building in historic districts. Often, new structures struggle with balancing contemporary design with a historic neighborhood fabric. When it comes to the historic structures themselves, there still seems to be a split in the development community about whether it is more valuable to tear down aging buildings, or spend the money to breathe new life into them.

Until the understanding that historic buildings and urban fabric are what establish the value of neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine, there will continue to be a conflict between those who wish to preserve the old, and those who think reducing the upfront capital cost is more valuable.

Transit & Parking
The LibertyElm development is arguably located in one of the region’s most walkable neighborhoods, is served by numerous bus routes, and is surrounded by the Cincinnati Streetcar.

Yet, while touting these facts, John Heekin, Principal at Source 3 Development, says that a concerted effort was made to provide enough parking to not only satisfy its new residents and businesses, but also address parking demands in the surrounding neighborhood. In order to accomplish this, a three-level, 165-space garage is included with the project.

In fact, when asked about the possibility of adding more residential to the project, Heekin explained that while more apartments are being demanded, it is the provision of parking that is the limiting factor.

“We think the market demand for residential is higher, but most people who have seen our plans want more parking,” Heekin told UrbanCincy. “This is hopefully where the streetcar will help.”

In theory, this is absolutely where the streetcar should help. But in reality, this is where the neighborhood’s walkability, bikeability and existing bus service already help. In fact, City Hall has thought so much of these aspects that it has reduced minimum parking requirements along the streetcar line, and throughout the center.

Heekin says that his development team is hopeful the project’s residential tenants will not have as much a need for cars, thus creating an opportunity to turn some of those spaces over to public use – perhaps for people visiting Findlay Market.

But it is this hope, and lack of confidence, that creates such predicament for Cincinnati’s development community. While the city is becoming more transit friendly, many see the market still demanding one to two parking spaces per residential unit, and even more for commercial retail, which has become a regional draw in Over-the-Rhine in recent years.

Having been focused on developing projects on green field sites in suburbia for several generations, challenging urban infill projects are still new to Cincinnati’s development community. This is made most obvious in Over-the-Rhine where development is at a fever pitch, and developers must deal with both the conflict of building new or preserving old, and developing around cars or not.

Source 3 Development seems to be on the right track, as compared to many other recent development projects, but the conflicts remain clear.

Heekin says they hope to break ground on the project this fall, with residents and businesses moving in a year after that. Perhaps between now and then, Cincinnati’s development community will become more comfortable with building truly urban projects that preserve and complement the city’s historic assets, and take full advantage of the walkability, bikeability and transit service offered throughout the city.

  • Eric

    On parking, what’s frustrating is that the local view hasn’t caught on to what’s going on nationally. Curbed Chicago has a running list of the dozen or so TOD projects there and Boston, Buffalo and Nashville are building no-parking apt buildings. Of course, these are more progressive cities that have moved beyond catering to suburban thinking, but for individual projects there are 3 things needed to see more TOD here: (1) a willing developer, (2) a city hall that stops subsidizing oversized parking garages, and (3) neighborhood councils that won’t hold projects hostage because of parking.

    You’re spot-on here: “new structures struggle with balancing contemporary design with a historic neighborhood fabric”. Fortunately for OTR, the historic building stock is so good that it’s immune to lazy contemporary architecture, but 3CDC’s new construction is so bland it’s almost as if it’s purposely trying to be quiet elevator music for all those historic rehabs. If ever there was a design that is as much building as it is void, it’s the Vine Street side of the seemingly unfinished, Soviet-gray Mercer. And the adjacent townhomes finishing up on the north side of Mercer between Vine and Walnut seem to be giving a historic preservation middle building finger and used slap-on brick veneer that will show wear in a few years. What 3CDC fails to realize, is that it’s missing a huge opportunity. Instead of being known for just historic preservation, parks and fine dining, it could be known as a an architectural leader. Instead of what could have been fascinating and original neotraditional or contemporary buildings (google DDG Partners), we’re stuck with the same copy-paste architecture with just different hues spreading through OTR.

    • Charlie Hinkley

      I looked at DDG Partners stuff and WOW. Look at the 25 Wooster building. Stick that on Central Parkway and just watch the double-takes.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Hate to say it, but compared to most of the other infill in Cincinnati 3CDCs work blows it out of the water. Its not a high bar, but its at least a start.

  • Jesse

    Thanks for the great post. Hopefully the move away from car-centric thinking will erode more quickly once the streetcar is up and running. The streetcar’s impact is still theoretical. I am confident it will exceed people’s expectations but I’m not the one putting millions of dollars on the line. Developers in cities where parking-free buildings are more common have already seen similar buildings work in the exact same area. Our developers don’t have that security blanket.

    I do think we will eventually need more than just the streetcar to sustain large scale car-free development. Streetcar-like levels of service to uptown and the central east side neighborhoods would be huge. That would benefit both downtown and connected neighborhood business districts.

    Then there is the matter of convincing people in places like Oakley and Hyde Park to actually use public transportation but that’s a different kind of problem.

    • The biggest thing for me is that the region’s bus system could be so much better. This is ultimately what will help get people out of their cars, because building a light rail network will take decades and a large amount of money.

      In fact, I have lived car-free for almost five years in various locations – many of which have terrific rail networks. But even with those rail networks, I have used each city’s bus system for the vast majority of my daily travel needs.

    • Jesse

      I agree. Rail should be the long term goal for connecting the city’s major population and business centers but we will always need buses. I’d like to see better access to all the fun stuff downtown in my lifetime so buses are the most likely option for now.

      I would be super excited if Metro rolled out a weekend express option that connected the city’s development hot spots. I’d go for it even if it was an hourly service provided it went late into the night and the departure times were reliable.

      I’m on the east side so I would imagine something like an express shuttle with stops at Downtown – OTR – Walnut Hills – East Walnit Hills – O’Bryonville – Hyde Park – Oakley. There’s a lot of opportunity for matching local businesses with disposable income along that line.

      Great discussion. Is great to have a forum to discuss issues like this..

    • Neil Clingerman

      There are plans on the books to expand the Metro*Plus service – this would include a line on Madison Ave which would connect the east side neighborhoods. Hopefully frequencies would be better than the dreadful 11 bus which goes from being 1 every half our at Hyde park to 1 every hour in Oakley due to an odd split in the line.

  • Jules Michael Rosen

    It’s a shame that Freeport and Campbell Alleys will likely be sacrificed for this project. Buildings are not the only part of our built environment that should enjoy preservation.

  • margyartgrrl

    This project is not a done deal. The developers approached the Over-the-Rhine Community Council for a letter of support. There were so many questions about design, scale, parking and more, that the item was held for future consideration.

    Cincinnati can do better than this—we should demand better in this neighborhood. It’s important to everyone in the region that we retain the special historic quality of OTR. It’s the architecture, authenticity, and density (and alleys) that make this neighborhood unique. If we want visitors to continue to enjoy this place for generations we have to be very thoughtful about the design and quality of new development.

    • Jon Harmon

      This development should be at least 6, maybe 7 stories tall. And happy with the 1-1 ratio. MUCH better than most new developments.

    • I agree. The parking ratio here is not as bad as other developments. I also agree that the project should be larger, which is why I asked him about that. Unfortunately, the decision not to build a larger structure was made due to parking.

    • Matt Jacob

      The zoning allows 6 stories, but even that is getting pushback from a historic standpoint when comparing to surrounding historic buildings that are predominantly 4-5 stories tall. I think you are right that it’s a missed opportunity if they can’t go that tall. Higher density transit oriented development like this is what we’ve been asking for with the streetcar. I think there’s a good arguement that historically buildings rise in height at transportation nodes and with the streetcarstop across Liberty this would mirror that tendency. They’ll need to step it on the Elm side to transition it to the smaller scale along Elm though.

      OTR needs to take advantage of large parcels like this one for structured parking to avoid more demolitions of historic structures and still provide for the 21st century reality that cars are a part of our daily lives and will be for the foreseeable future in at least some capacity. One of the reasons OTR crumbled was that it didn’t adapt to this reality until 3CDC recognized it and look what’s happened since. I think these developers have done a great job of incorporating the garage into the historic setting by screening the prominent sides with the mixed-use building (site not large enough to do it on Logan side), retaining Freeport Alley as a pedestrian cutthrough that they will maintain, and orienting the garage entrances/exits with Campbell Street.

      They have also parked their own demand instead of pushing it onto city streets (in a neighborhood where there is already a problem of availability for residents from all the visitors that come in) and provided extra spaces to fuel surrounding developments around them. Perhaps the most important part is that they aren’t directly tying a space to each apartment, just giving the option, so residents without cars aren’t paying for it fully in their rent. This is the way that our city will truly transition to not needing a car and the developer gets to sell the space another time to visitors if their resident goes carfree.

      There’s still a lot of work to do to ensure that the final designs keep the high quality and architectural detail that we’re used to in OTR, but i think this has the potential to set a high standard for infill development in OTR and the rest of the city. The developers have been really open to community feedback and have incorporated things like the alley as a result. This collaboration is how we get back to greater quality development.

    • ED

      6 max assuming modern floor-ceiling heights. A clear distinction between OTR and downtown is height and you don’t want to jeopardize existing buildings by causing every other property owner to speculate on the maximum building height they can get.

    • Thanks for the perspective, Margy. This is not a terrible project by any measure, but it could be made better with revisions. Hopefully the neighborhood is able to work with the development team to accomplish this. They certainly seem like a group that is open to suggestions.

    • margyartgrrl

      I guess we are about to find out.

  • Brad Jackson

    I’m torn on projects like this one. We need to fill vacant lots with solid urban infill, but due to the lack of mass transit infrastructure in the region, people have to rely on cars to travel outside of the neighborhood. If we had more frequent bus service, light rail, and an expanded streetcar, then I could see the elimination of the garage. As it stands, many of the new residents in that development need a place to park the car they are forced to depend on.

    • Kevin1813

      It’s a very chicken or egg conversation. Unfortunately, unless car usage is allowed to become difficult, walkable communities and transit will just not appear out of nowhere.

    • Jesse

      And it is not just residents that matter here. As someone else mentioned, the OTRdowntown area still does not have a large enough population to maintain all the great things that are going on there. Visitors are required. Lots of them. Those people need to find their way home late at night in often unpleasant weather. I’m all about transit but I can’t say I would want to try to catch a bus from OTR to Oakley after midnight in February.

      That said, I still think this is a transit problem rather than a parking problem. If there was reasonably frequent transit service between my neighborhood business district and OTR that went late at least on weekends I’d use it all the time. Even something as simple as a weekend shuttle service would be great. I’d be happy. The money I’d spend would make OTR shop and bar owners happy. Win win.

      And it’s important to keep in mind that transit does not just benefit downtown. Maybe some of those OTR residents will find their way to my neighborhood business district for a change of scenery.

    • ED

      You’re assuming that the current parking situation for OTR visitors is inadequate, which it is not because of all the hidden onstreet parking. Look at the huge Lumenocity crowds.

    • Kevin1813

      Great point! How did everyone get to Lumenocity if there is any type of parking shortage?

    • Jesse

      Just to clarify, I was thinking hypothetically assuming the crowds of both residents and visitors continue to grow. The parking now is fine. I’m just wondering if future parking issues should be an issue when planing developments. My post was not all that clear.

      Personally I’d rather not deal with parking even if there are plenty of spaces. I’d like to be able to have a nice dinner, enjoy a drink or three and get home safe and sound. If there was a reasonably convenient bus I’d wait around for 15 or 20 minutes for it even though I have a car.

    • ED

      I visit OTR 4-5 times a week and I never park in a garage because it’s more expensive and less convenient.

  • Paul W

    The reality is at the price points being built now, the buyers want multiple parking spaces. If you look at most revitalized downtowns, for example, its a kiss of death if you are building a higher end development and you cant offer 2-3 car spaces. The real world is the people moving into OTR still have ties to suburbia and NEED their cars. NOL should be larger single family townhouses and single family homes and mixed use retail residential, because that’s the way the market will be heading.

    • Eric

      But this isn’t a high-end condo project. I believe the developer in this instance is using a very simple calculation of 1 space/new unit and 1 space/200sf of retail, which is what most of the suburban townships in Hamilton County require for strip malls!

      By your logic the downtown/OTR renaissance would’ve never happened because there are many units with no parking at all, let alone 2-3 spaces, and the ONLY way to let market forces dictate parking is to separate it from individual units/projects and make people pay for it separately.

    • Paul W

      The problem is that you need to consider 50%of all on street parking for visitors if you want to maintain a viable business climate. Take a look at Indy (not the best example I’ll Admit) but they are building underground parking garages under almost every new project. Even with all that, businesses are leaving Mass Ave because their clients cant find parking within 10 blocks. The Phoenix Theater is moving because ticket sales are down because you cant find a place to park, Residents complain constantly about people illegally parked. If you become successful as a neighborhood you need MORE parking not less.

    • I’m torn on this issue too, I don’t believe parking garages are going away so we need to demand the best designs possible. A strategically placed garage can unlock development for the surrounding areas. I know its expensive but I wish they would put more of them below ground.

    • Kevin1813

      No one goes to Mass Ave anymore, it’s too crowded. 😛
      Businesses could also be moving due to higher rents since the neighborhood is booming. Sorry, but this sounds pretty unsubstantiated to me. More like residents complaining when they can’t park right out front of wherever their destination is for free.

    • Paul W

      I lived in Indy for years, I know the business people (had an ownership interest in a Mass Avenue Business) and if you are a retail business you are dependent on accessibility, if you are a restaurant or nightclub, same thing, not enough parking, not enough accessibility you sales go down. Sure prices have gone up for retail. I know someone paying 9000 a month for shop space but that makes parking even more critical because (just like OTR will be) you are dependent on visitors for business. The facts are most current retail in OTR will be cycled out by rising retail rates as the “chain concerns come in. Don’t forget: OTR=Only The Rich.

    • Kevin1813

      Not necessarily. There are neighborhoods in Toronto for example that zone their commercial district to only allow small businesses. It’s all about how important it is for the community to support small local businesses.

      Wouldn’t market forces dictate that less accessibility would lead to lower rents?

      And I think the point is that parking and accessibility do not have to mean the same thing.

    • Paul W

      I have watched rent along Mass Ave rise at incredible rates, Most of the ‘small businesses’ are getting replaced by chain Breweries and high end eateries. Many of them have moved to Fountain Square but its getting pricey too. The big boys pay for prime location and to be fair lot of people living in the area who walk a couple of blocks to eat, but businesses need visitors to be profitable.. Its sad because the unique shops are gone. Same thing will happen in OTR.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I agree that OTR will eventually get more chain stores, but the one weird factor here is 3CDC which has pretty much pledged to stick to unique concepts/local stuff and given their arrangement as a non-profit I’m not sure if the economic pressure of the bottom line will be quite as great. Given the oddity of that arrangement I wonder if there will be more of a delay in Cincinnati getting large chains in OTR?

    • Paul W

      I think 3CDC will go for whomever can afford it. Their job is to raise capital for additional projects and maintain buildings. Bear in mind that the Tax Abatements wont be around forever and when these buildings get taxed at market rate its going to take a lot more to pay the taxes. I see them acting just like any landlord and its who can afford to pay the rent. I mean they are building at 300-400 a sq ft now, they are not building for millennia’s and hipsters anymore and that demographic will be pushed out of OTR in 5 years. That means higher end retail and restaurants to appeal to well monied people. Remember NOL is already selling for more than SOL in some newer developments. Starbucks on every corner.

    • ED

      The new Vine St retail is controlled by 3CDC. If some gets kicked out, like the great furniture store did for Homage, it’s because of 3CDC.

      I used to visit Mass Ave frequently, plenty of side streets and other streets like Alabama to park on. People are just lazy when it comes to parking and walking.

    • Paul W

      Ed good luck finding parking on Alabama these days, Six large scale condo developments in the immediate area. The side streets are now filled with multi million dollar infill (Park Ave S of Mass) and Lockerbie has resident parking only. They eliminated parking on Park on one side completely and the cultural; trail took spaces as did the city electric car share charging stations. You cant find anything on college anymore either with all the new mid rises built. Forget even trying to find anything on the weekends and Chatham arch is crying for resident parking and Phoenix Theatre is moving 8 blocks away on Illinois because there was no parking and ticket sales were down. Try going to Mass Ave now.

    • ED

      I was there a few weeks ago on a weekend and didn’t have a problem but I take your word for it. What you did say was counterintuitive though, that “they are building underground parking garages under almost every new project”. Detroit overbuilt parking downtown and look what it got, so something’s not connecting.

    • Neil Clingerman
    • ED

      I’ve never heard of that and it seems like a very general number. Shoup says all you need is a small vacancy that keeps one space open per block at a time.

      I used to live in Indy and the problem with Mass Ave and other core areas is that your customer base there is more likely to be 30 minutes outside of downtown, unlike here where you have strong neighborhoods 3-5 miles away. There are nice residential areas to the east of Mass Ave but they are separated by the highway and Indy’s notoriously slow buses. Mass Ave keeps getting more and more successful so naturally people are going to complain more about it urbanizing, but they really do need a residential permit like OTR or build a few shared garages, which are plentiful if you’re willing to walk a few blocks from downtown.

    • Kevin1813

      IMO, what we should all be seeking is to have communities that encourage 1 car households. Kids are able to commute to school by foot, bike, or last resort bus. 1 or more adult family members is able to commute to work via foot, bike, or transit. The one car is then used for 1 adult family members commute and/or evening and weekend tips.
      The idea isn’t to eliminate cars, but to build communities where they are not always the most (or only) means of transportation. But part of this has to come from some type of parking inconvenience.
      I currently live in a dense neighborhood where there is no problem parking, so long as you are willing to work three or four blocks maximum. But only about 33% of the population has cars in the first place. It’s normally easier to walk, take transit, or bike. That should be the goal for OTR.

    • Paul W

      Kevin , here is a fact. Only 9.2 percent of American household are without a car as of 2012 according to University of Michigan’s Research Institute and the decline was only 1/2 a percent and much of that is attributed to economic factors. Those are what developers look at in making decisions.

    • Kevin1813

      Paul, here is a fact, you didn’t read my post. I’d advocating for 1 car house holds, not a car free society.
      “The idea isn’t to eliminate cars, but to build communities where they are not always the most (or only) means of transportation.”
      If we build communities to allow one car households we all win. That’s less taxes needed to provide upkeep on roads, less household spending on transportation, not to mention saving on health costs by reducing air pollution.

    • Paul W

      That’s not a real world scenario. My partner and I each have a car and we cant schedule one car so we can go the places we need to. I have two business vehicles and three classic cars. Once you get to a certain point in your life one car isn’t enough for household. “Transportation Utopia” isn’t going to happen in our lifetime….or probably ever.

    • Kevin1813

      Haha you should come out and see my neighborhood sometime, I can assure you it’s very real. Per the census, a majority of commuting trips in my tract (and the two adjacent tracts) are via something other than a private automobile. And most buildings in my neighborhood are 3-4 stories tall, so no I don’t live in Manhattan or in a downtown area.
      You obviously have a huge emotional attachment to cars and I completely get it. Driving is fun. But plenty of communities exist around the world where cars are only used for evening or weekend trips out of the neighborhood or city. I understand that you like driving and want to it to be subsidized as much as possible, but that may or may not be in everyone’s best interests.

  • Erich Griessmann

    I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but let me offer some advice outside the “tunnel vision” of well meaning activist/developers. I lived in Cincinnati from birth until ’99 when I was 26. I have lived in Chicago now for a decade and a half. I understand everyone’s dreams of having an OTR that has developments with no parking and in this vision, everyone is riding bike’s and streetcars and walking. But lets deal with reality. People want to get in their car and go eat a burger at Zips in Hyde Park and they don’t want it to take an hour to get there. They want to go to Kings Island or visit friends in Tri-County. The majority of the population that lives in the city of Chicago still owns cars, and while they don’t use them weekdays because of commuting to work, they do on weekends. Parking spaces for sale run around $35,000 deeded or roughly 200$ a month. If I were you, I would be very careful about how you want to do away with parking because you will end up in the kind of world I just described up here. If you think that people who are buying $250,000 and up condos are going to go without a car you are not living in reality. Plus, you need OTR to be successful and that means attracting people from the burbs and giving them a place to park. If you want OTR to be self sustaining and not worry about parking anymore, I suggest setting a goal of attaining the original population level that existed in 1945 which was about 45,000. Once you have attained that level of people, then you might be able to get away with that. Do they do developments like that in Chicago. Yes they do. And then someone builds a parking garage or a lot elsewhere in the neighborhood to accommodate the increase in cars. I understand the environmental/millennial/hipster ideals. But you need to realize that your in CIncinnati, not Manhattan, and people have a choice to either be there or go elsewhere. Don’t make it difficult before your even off the ground yet. Complaining about the loss of alley ways is crazy. Be happy there is development. Not until there is not one pre WWII crumbling structure left should you worry about an alley. The last thing you need there is the insanity that goes on in San Francisco. If the architecture is acceptable and fits in, quit trying to create problems and embrace it. If some person wanted to develop all the vacant land between Central Pkwy and the YWCA along Walnut and someone complained about a brick alley being lost, they should be thrown out. People complaining about development need a reality check. You aren’t the French Quarter yet, Keep Calm.

    • Eric

      Plenty of existing units and rehabs in OTR that don’t include on-site parking and no one said this project should have “no parking”. Heck, knowing Cinti community councils it’s likely that they will have to build MORE parking than they even want. But I fail to see what complaining about parking in Chicago has to do with OTR, maybe you should try Houston.

    • Neil Clingerman

      He also has really inflated numbers for the majority of people who live in said 3rd largest city.

    • Neil Clingerman

      What part of Chicago do you live in? Unless you are in the Loop or a few surrounding areas like the Gold Coast or River North the going rate for parking is generally 100/mo – no more than $12,000/year. Even in where I’m living now I could if I so wanted get a parking spot for $150/mo. I know I could get cheaper and not so far away – a ten minute walk to a lower density area and I know for a fact I can rent a spot for 100/mo. If you are paying $35,000 a year on parking you need to seriously look harder for a space, or at the very least consider locating near a transit line in a neighborhood that isn’t the gold coast, streeterville or the loop.

      However, where I live, while its far more difficult than most Cincinnatians are used to, there is plenty of permitted on street parking, of which I only really spend around 100/year to get. I almost never use my car, and only use it for times when I need to be at a specific place at a specific time, for hauling bigger things, for visiting friends who live deep in the suburbs or for daytrips where I can’t really travel by bus or train. I had considered getting a private spot but decided against it when I realized that even in some really high density neighborhoods like the one I live in, parking permits and nearby good transit is all that’s really needed. I also have plenty of friends who don’t have cars.

      I don’t even think OTR needs 45,000 people to start developing a more urban mindset – it at least needs a Wicker Park like density of 15,000/mi sq before Chicago like things can happen (think about it OTR is pretty small and 45,000 people/mi sq is like the top densities in SF and NYC).

      Cincinnati needs work on its transit, you are right about that. Lets talk hypotheticals, with your “trip to zip’s cafe in Mt. Lookout” as an example. If Metro were to pass a levy to beef up its bus service and add frequently running metro plus service to the east side (which is served right now by the absolutely terrible 11 and 24 bus routes which basically run only once an hour, (the 11 is confusing but it branches so a trip to Zips is only once an hour). If there was a service like metro plus a trip from Fountain Square to Zips could be cut in half to about 30 mins or so, which isn’t that bad. (look at how long it takes the current line to get to Xavier University for instance which is a pretty comparable distance).

      Finally never accept mediocrity. I’m all for incremental improvements (I think a larger metro*plus system with higher frequencies and weekend running is one of the easiest steps to improve transit in Cincinnati for instance). Daniel Burnham said make no big plans, and that’s ingrained in Chicago’s culture so deep that people support bold ideas, and its part of the reason for the city’s success. Cincinnati has the opposite culture of “don’t do this here” ingrained in its heart and its part of the reason why its been an underperformer for so long. A shift to a culture of excellence is really what Cincinnati needs, and thinking big then weighing the big thoughts and executing a realistic plan based off of those big thoughts is the best course of action (even all of Burhnams plan wasn’t fully realized for Chicago 😉 ).

    • Not everyone.

  • SC

    The city and county’s lack of urgency on suitable mass transit is probably more to blame than anything. I don’t think developers love the idea of parking garages necessarily but simply put, it’s quite hard to get around the city efficiently without a car.

  • thebillshark

    My thoughts on this:

    1. Historic Buildings: I think we should try to preserve at least 95% of the historic structures we have for redevelopment. Besides their historical value, historic structures are in general built to smaller scales that are more conducive to creating walkable neighborhoods, with street frontages that are better at creating variety and holding the attention of the pedestrian, than new developments that are being built today.

    2. Parking needs in OTR: Donald Shoup starts off his lecture with a humorous look at the quite often completely arbitrary parking minimums set by local governments for different kinds of businesses/establishments. Banks providing financing sometimes have their own arbitrary parking requirements as well. If there is a place in Cincinnati to set aside these arbitrary parking minimums and test what the free market will bear, it is OTR, because of its high walkability and transit service, and the fact that it cannot accommodate large numbers of vehicles by its very structure.

    3. Liberty and Elm development: in general I am supportive of this development as planned and think it would be a positive addition to OTR. If I were to change anything it would be to add townhomes along Logan Street to hide the parking garage frontage (similar as was done on Mercer St.) However, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of the 118 apartments and 15,000 square feet of street-level retail because of the lost parking.

    4. A suggestion for a new parking garage: I recognize the sprawled nature of our metro area will create a baseline need for parking in OTR for people going to and coming from the suburbs. As such here is my concept for an underground garage that would be cattycorner from this Liberty and Elm development underneath Pleasant Street:


    • Matt Jacob

      FYI Concerning #3 they looked at townhomes on Logan but weren’t convinced of their viability due to what’s across the street and they also pushed the retail footprints on Elm to be hard sizes to lease. They will be screening the Logan side but haven’t completed designs as to what it will look like yet. The inflexibility of the garage geometry really limited what they could do though.

      We also asked about making the garage a universal structure (like the dunnhumby building) that could be converted later to office or residential and about adding apartments above the garage structure, but both were cost prohibitive.

      These developers have looked at the site everyway they could have and in the end the garage had to be the starting point that drove the rest of the development.

    • ED

      I wonder about the developer’s capability and unfamiliarity with OTR, and if they maybe overpaid for the property since 3CDC and Model aren’t involved.

    • Matt Jacob

      Most developers just repeat winning strategies once they’ve found one, and I think that holds true for most of the typical players in OTR today. I think it’s a good thing to have new developers come in and push the limits towards something better.

    • I have just recently discovered some of Prof. Shoup’s work myself and it’s been eye-opening. Here is a link for those who may be interested to learn more about how parking minimums are often set and their basis: http://cal.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2015/07/508.pdf. (He also has some interesting ideas on letting the market set the price for parking.)

      I had previously believed (ignorantly) that requirements that impose a cost on society would have some basis in science or data if that were available. It is disappointing that so many obvious defects in the guidelines are ignored or unaccounted for in setting requirements. Does anyone know what the city of Cincinnati’s basis for its requirements is?

      As I’ve walked and driven around Cincinnati recently, my eyes have been opened to the vast amount of space the city requires to be devoted to automobiles (admittedly some of it may be driven by wants rather than imposed by the government). The low cost (to a driver) of parking has follow-on costs in the form of increased infrastructure (both capital and maintenance costs). I am not opposed to cars as they certainly offer many benefits. But it seems counter-intuitive that our city government would forego the possibility for additional tax revenue from a residence or business and encourage diminishing its tax base in the form of lower value parking through requirements than be supportive of more density and the follow-on to property taxes. Admittedly, loss of households or businesses to areas that offer free unlimited parking may be the counterfactual in this case. Would it be politically possible for a politician to offer up the trade-off in higher density with lower parking requirements for lower property tax rates as infrastructure is used more efficiently?

  • CathleenY

    Are we focusing too much on the parking issues of today? The near future is projected to look much different, and ten years from now we may consider tearing down these parking structures vs. destroying historical sites and using valuable land to construct more.

    I work in the tech industry, and projections tell us that in three years fully-autonomous cars will be on the road, with an estimated 20 million self-driving (not necessarily all fully-autonomous) cars on the road by 2020…that’s just four years away. Even today, car sharing (think ZipCar) is gaining momentum. Put these two things together, and who knows…we may not even want to individually own or drive cars – we can use an app to summon a car, much like Uber or Lyft. Algorithms will figure out things such as who is
    going to the same area and can share a ride, etc. Companies that own and operate these services could have centrally located car lots to house the cars when not in use. This all points to less of a need for parking adjacent to our homes. No one can predict if this will be the actual scenario, but it will be
    different than today.

  • Tiffany Vitagliano

    Was the photo edited or is it just more than five years old? Currently that “cleared” lot is fenced in and contains a community garden – http://www.findlaymarket.org/grown-local. You mentioned this, but is saying “has been used” the same as “is actively being used”? If I didn’t drive by this intersection daily, I might read this article and assume your photo is a current representation of this area, which it is not.

    • The photo is likely from a few years ago, before they started using it a farm. However, the site was not used as a farm last year, so it’s full of unused greenhouses and dying plants.

    • Tiffany Vitagliano

      That’s so surprising, but that would definitely explain it. Thanks for the clarification, my apologies.