Episode #63: Summer Update

0On the 63rd episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, TravisRandy, and John discuss some recent news stories affecting Cincinnati’s urban core.

We talk about the potential demolition of Cincinnati Gardens, as how younger Cincinnatians have stepped up to fight to save historic buildings like The Dennison Hotel and the Davis Furniture building. We discuss the proposed LibertyElm development and whether the originally-proposed six story design was appropriate for Over-the-Rhine. We give a preview of some of the changes coming soon to Main Street and the eastern half of OTR. And finally, we discuss the changes to this year’s MidPoint Music Festival, which has had a long history of being integrated into the urban core but will take a much different format this year.

Photo: The original proposal for the LibertyElm development.

  • Mark Christol

    Probably, one of my favorite parts of the 2nd Dennison hearings was when Burke asked a guy who developed distressed properties why he didn’t try to develop the Dennison – dude replied that the Dennison was in too good shape. His organization only dealt with buildings in really bad shape.

  • Jennifer Melfi

    My biggest issue with the new development at liberty and elm was the “need to add parking” There really is already quite a lot of parking in OTR. Adding enough for 1 spot per res in the building should be fine, but no need to add another big lot.

    Also, what are they going to do about the roofing and siding building on Elm? That is a gorgeous building owned by UrbanSites that has just been sitting there for a long time.

  • Brian Boland

    Regarding the Skyhouse development and One Lytle place, I think the challenge with these places is to get the intersection of the vertical tower and the ground right. That intersection is actually the most important part, and the easiest part to get wrong. This spot along the ground is where the building either joins the surrounding street/area or separates itself–there is very little success in any middle ground. One Lytle Place does a bad job of it, there’s nothing there to entice people out of their own building. So many of the “sculpture” buildings that look great as a model or on an artists concept drawing are horrible in reality. For a good example of what doesn’t work, look anywhere around the convention center. That building has a lousy street presence, as do several of the garages around it, and every block that shares a street with the it is dead. In Vancouver the way they try to avoid this with their tower buildings is to require a Podium/tower structure that makes the building have a street presence. Often, the residents of the podium part report liking where they live more than the people higher up. If there is no podium, no good spot where the tower meets the street, then you won’t even have that, you get One Lytle Place.

  • Interesting conversation.

    A few comments:

    – I think the sentimental value with Cincinnati Gardens is less with the building itself and more with the history of the venue. It’s not that dissimilar from the talk to save/honor King Records.

    – I have mixed feelings about Elm/Liberty, and understand both sides of the 5 vs. 6 story argument. But someone commented about 6-story buildings in OTR (including on 14th St.). Aside from one building on Central Pkwy., I can’t for the life of me figure out where there is a 6-story building in the district.

    There was a very spirited discussion during the Form Based Code charettes about 4 vs. 5 vs. 6 story heights in urban neighborhoods. Obviously OTR wasn’t one of the FBC neighborhoods, but OTR did come up in the discussions, and it’s certainly a fair debate.

    As for the historic guidelines, while I agree with encouraging density I think it’s a fair ask to limit that density in a way that maintains the integrity of the district. We seem to be stuck debating whether OTR should become the next Pearl District, or the next Charleston SC, but I would argue the uniqueness of the history here begs us to become the latter, not the former. (And, Jake’s point is well taken that only so much density is needed when we have a LOT of vacant land.)

    – Don’t quote me on this, but I believe the Main St. two-way study was limited because the funding was gifted by UrbanSites, and there was no more funding to study a larger area or other options.

    – Patience, all; Kroger on Central Pkwy. will happen.

    – The changes to MPMF are disappointing, but while we can’t enjoy going to local venues this year, we can certainly enjoy some free rooftop listening.

    • Charlie Hinkley

      Zach there are several buildings in Over-the-Rhine that are 6 stories:

      – Jackson Lofts (I think) at the corner of 13th and Jackson
      – The Art Academy
      – Pendleton Art Center
      – Music Hall (at least height-wise)
      – Emery building
      – American Building
      – Alms & Doepke, plus the other buildings on CP around Sycamore

    • I stand corrected. Looks like the tower on Jackson Lofts does go to 6 stories, as does the Art Academy.

      If I’d been thinking I would have excluded the entirety of Central Parkway. I thought of Music Hall but didn’t include it since I was strictly counting stories… I did miss the Strietmann though. And the Central Pkwy. branch that runs east-west is actually in the downtown development district so very rightfully includes some higher-rise buildings.

      Definitely some interesting arguments for and against 6 stories at Elm/Liberty. I do find it odd that someone (Randy, I believe?) would cite the width of Liberty as a reason for more density when there are very active efforts to reduce that width.

    • John and Randy’s point was that there needs to be a relationship between the width of the street and the height of the buildings along that street. Taller buildings like the American Building and Strietmann feel right along a wide street like Central Parkway. Even with the efforts to narrow Liberty Street, it’ll be 5 lanes wide. If we are allowing a new 4-story office building* to be built along a 2-lane road in OTR, I don’t think a six-story building along a 5-lane road will be a problem.

      * http://www.3cdc.org/our-projects/current-projects/empower-mediamarketing/

    • I get it. I’m all for density and I’m all for appropriate street-scaping.

      The more important question to many living in the OTR Historic District, though, is how new development adds to the density and livability of our urban fabric while ALSO keeping to the integrity of the district.

      So when the new development will be surrounded by 40-50′ (3- and 4-story) buildings, is 85′ appropriate? It’s a fair debate and one I don’t think I have an answer to, though I can say I understand the argument that a 6-story building would be overwhelming on this site. I get this is on Liberty and “close to” Central, but the majority of the frontage is on Elm and Green. (Interestingly, it’s the Green St. side that would conflict with current zoning, not Liberty.) I’m not arguing either way for the development… was just surprised the panel was so dismissive of the height discussion.

      On a different note, I will point that the neighborhood has been pushing a 3-lane Liberty St. and under a future administration may achieve just that, so again, using that as part of the argument for density is weird to me.

    • ED

      Anything to keep OTR in any area from becoming CUF.
      Also, is this the first mixed use new construction not done by 3CDC?

    • The problem with CUF isn’t the density, though. It’s the lack of historic preservation and the terrible materials chosen for new construction. We can have new mixed-use infill that uses quality materials and fits alongside historic buildings, instead of demolishing them.

      It’s important that we make these distinctions. Often, when people are fighting against “mixed-use” development, what they are actually fighting against is something else.

      On Cincy’s west side, some residents were fighting against mixed-use development because they thought it would include low-income housing. Again, that is a completely separate issue.

    • ED

      The architects in this city are incapable of good design

    • ED

      The bulk of Music Hall is only a few stories, it was designed to look much more grand and tall than it actually is.

    • ED

      Everything is contextual, the Elm St project is mostly new construction along Liberty and very close to Central, I have no problem with a taller building here as long as it doesn’t create speculative demolitions elsewhere in OTR.

    • ED

      The Elm St guys don’t know what they’re doing and the community council knows it.

  • Noibn48

    Six stories is a lot more to scale than the 14 or so story of boring ugliness they want to put up at Eighth and Main. Claims of blending with the current architecture are bogus, IMO.

  • xclone25x

    Is this site on hiatus or something? It has been over a month without a fresh article post.

  • Matt Jacob

    Just listening now a little late to the party…

    I was directly involved with the Elm/Liberty project, so hopefully I can add to the discussion here. Regarding the 6-story issue, it was more about context within the historic district than strictly enforcing the guidelines of one-story-above. The height that they originally proposed (in actual feet as opposed to “stories” which varies greatly) would have been comparable to the steeples of St. Francis Seraph. These serve as the pillars of the historic districts character. Really besides the churches, there aren’t many examples that high in OTR outside of near Central Parkway. Liberty doesn’t have the historic role that Central Parkway did of being on the canal and as such never really had anything close to that scale. As John pointed out, Liberty was historically a 2 lane road, which only got over-inflated as a part of a failed urban highway (which FWW ended up being instead). Soon Liberty will be going through a road-diet, which will still end up with a wider width than it originally had, but that’s one reason why the final outcome was still higher than the surrounding buildings on the Liberty side. An important thing to note about how the height changed was the way that it now steps downward as it goes north and connects with the smaller buildings along Elm. The original proposals didn’t do this as well and ended up looking like a much more massive single building than the broken-up final plans turned out. This project is still going through architectural review to make sure that the final product ends up with quality materials and keeps many of the historic characteristics that define OTR rather than other more generic urban neighborhood developments. I’ve left that to the architects that know these things(and my understanding is that they’re working through these things still before going to the HCB), but I’m excited to see this project break ground and add needed supply to OTR’s housing stock.

    I completely agree with Jake’s point that higher buildings make sense farther south closer to the CBD; be that in OTR next to Central Parkway, around Court Street (especially on those parking lots), or even further south like what’s happening on Broadway and Sycamore along 7th. To me that is where we should be fighting for density and height as opposed to in the heart of the largest historic district in the country. That’s where the streetcar economic development analysis predicted the biggest portion of the growth and it’s really a shame that buildings like the Dennison aren’t being converted and that parking lots aren’t changing due to entrenched interests.

    On Main Street I personally think that traffic enforcement could go a longer way than many of the improvements that are being talked about to calm traffic and reduce speeding. The best idea that’s been put forward was reducing the driving lanes down from 2 to 1 to create more friction to slow things, but I’m not even sure that’s the best idea. (I agree with John about temporary construction related problems being most of the issue and with Randy that parallel parking isn’t the right solution for here in the middle of a city). I’d rather see 1 of the 2 driving lanes dedicated to transit only (buses now and eventually also streetcars upon expansion up to a Mulberry tunnel) along with a similar one on Walnut.