Project Officials Ready to Move Forward With Next Phase of The Banks

Officials overseeing the development of The Banks have announced that they will soon proceed with the design and construction of the infrastructure needed for the next phase of the massive riverfront project.

Yesterday, at a special meeting of The Banks Steering Committee, the eight-member group unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with what they expect to be $29.3 million worth of work, which would then provide the platform for millions more in private investment in the form of offices, residences and retail on what is referred to as Lot 24.

As has been the case with all prior phases of the mixed-use development, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will build out the utilities and roadway network, and construct a 690-space, two-level parking garage that will lift the site out of the Ohio River floodplain. Carter and The Dawson Company – the private development team selected for the project – would consider what elements should be included and then proceed with building and leasing out whatever is built on top of the parking decks.

A guiding principle that has not changed since the beginning of the development process is that the underground parking garage will be reserved for public parking, leaving Carter-Dawson to develop additional above-ground parking to satisfy the City’s mandatory parking requirements.

The Steering Committee said that the public work will be funded through the issuance of $22 million in tax increment finance bonds, and $7 million from the State of Ohio. Project officials say issuance of the bonds is expected to come within the coming months.

While the Carter-Dawson team has not yet decided the exact mix for this third phase of work, it is widely expected to be primarily residential. In total, the zoning and infrastructure for the site will allow for around 320,000 to 400,000 square feet of developable space.

The timing of the announcement could not be better, with work rapidly progressing on General Electric’s 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, 19,000 square feet of retail space, and the 291 apartments at the phase two site to the immediate north; and with the announcement that AC Hotels will develop the long-sought hotel along Main Street in front of Great American Ball Park.

Phase two work is expected to be completed in phases throughout 2016, while AC Hotel by Marriott is expected to open in spring 2017.

While management with the Cincinnati Bengals expressed some concern over the loss of one of the team’s few remaining tailgating lots, The Banks itself is evolving into more of an entertainment district than many had thought.

In April, state officials approved a new open-container district law that will soon be in place at The Banks; and yesterday, in a separate move, the Cincinnati Reds applied for a zoning variance to allow for the installation of a video board that will overlook Freedom Way – providing live video programming when the surrounding streets are shut down to cars for special events. Such moves could render tailgating lots obsolete as fans move to the streets on game days.

Project officials say the phasing of construction at the 18-acre site has been carefully coordinated between the district’s various stakeholders, along with the construction schedule of Smale Riverfront Park. As park work has moved west so has work at The Banks, and with the latest work on the park taking place just south of phase three of The Banks, the timing makes perfect sense.

If all goes according to plan, this next phase of infrastructure work could begin as soon as January or February – just after the conclusion of the Bengals football season.

Uptown leaders should copy Buffalo and develop a street-calming plan

Cincinnati’s uptown neighborhoods are experiencing a bit of a boom. Hundreds of residential units are being developed, new transportation infrastructure and capacity is coming online, and smaller, historic buildings are controversially making way for new, taller ones. While significant changes are underway, one thing that remains the same, and seems poised to only get worse as new roadway projects are built, is the fact that most major thoroughfares uptown are inhospitable to people who wish to walk or bike to get around. In Buffalo they have developed a plan to address just that in the city’s historic downtown. A similar plan should be considered for Cincinnati’s second largest employment center. More from Buffalo News:

The new Downtown Infrastructure Master Plan lays out a series of enhancements to key streets, districts and public squares to bolster the appearance and feel of the city center for residents, employees and visitors, while making the downtown more vibrant. At the same time, it seeks to make the area more cohesive and pedestrian-friendly, by improving access and connections. And it calls for traffic calming, more accessible green space and public space, and a “softening” of barriers like highway overpasses.

The goal is to provide a framework for future public-sector investments and projects, using shared objectives in making decisions about where to target new initiatives. But it’s also flexible enough, officials said, so that it can be adapted to tie in new projects to downtown and neighborhoods.

Cincinnati Posts Third Consecutive Year of Population Increases

The U.S. Census Bureau released new population estimates for municipalities across the United States last week. The data showed that while Ohio’s big cities continue to struggle, Cincinnati and Columbus stand as outliers by posting consistent population growth.

According to the estimate, the City of Cincinnati now has 298,165 residents, which represents an increase of 547 over the previous year. While the metropolitan region is Ohio’s largest, Cincinnati is just the state’s third largest city after Cleveland (389,521) and Columbus (835,957), which has nearly three times as much land area as both Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Further reducing Cincinnati’s numbers is the reality that nearly 70,000 people live in the river cities directly across from Downtown in Northern Kentucky. While they are counted toward the regional total, they do not show up in the city’s overall population.

For Cincinnati it marked the third consecutive year of population gains since the Census Bureau disappointed city officials with their 2010 decennial count, which is a much more robust effort based on actual counts than the annual estimates. This comes after a half-century of population decline that not only defined the Queen City, but most established cities throughout the United States – a fact that while easily noticed also had many root causes that are difficult to ascribe.

Since this newly released data is not the hard count, one is not able to decipher where the population gains and losses are occurring throughout the city, but recent reports have shown strong population growth in Downtown and Uptown – a trend that is expected to continue over the rest of the decade.

For years leading up to the 2010 decennial count, Cincinnati officials had been challenging population estimates that showed declining population numbers. Those declining numbers were held up in that count, but now appear to be on the side of city officials who believe trends are now in their favor.

The growth in both Cincinnati and Columbus follow their regional population growth trends, although the City of Columbus is adding population at a faster rate than its region, while the City of Cincinnati is slightly trailing its regional population growth trends. Quite the opposite is true in Cleveland, where both the city and region are losing people, and the city is doing so at a faster rate.

While Cleveland stands as lone big metropolitan region losing population in Ohio, Toledo looks to be faring even worse. Since 2010, the City of Toledo has been losing more than 1,500 residents each year, while shedding a total of 3,000 residents region-wide since the decennial count.

As UrbanCincy previously reported when updated regional estimates were released, if current trends continue Columbus will surpass Cleveland in 2017 and Cincinnati in 2024 to become the state’s largest metropolitan region.

With both Columbus and Cincinnati also leading the state in terms of their economic performance, it seems likely that their positions as population growth leaders will continue throughout the remainder of the decade.

OTR Foundation Crowdfunding Campaign to Support Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden

The Over-the-Rhine Foundation is looking to raise money to support the Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden.

The non-profit group typically advocates for historic preservation, and was instrumental in saving the historic school. As a result, Over-the-Rhine Foundation leadership sees the support of this rooftop garden and the school itself as one of its primary initiatives.

“The Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden is a transformational project that builds community by connecting students in OTR to the values of gardening in their school environment,” W. Kevin Pape, President, Over-the-Rhine Foundation, said in a prepared release. “The Foundation proudly supports Rothenberg’s students and the realization of the rooftop garden project.”

In the case of this project, digital crowdfunding site Indiegogo is being used, but there will also be a happy hour event tonight at Goodfellas Pizzeria on Main Street.

The Indiegogo campaign offers a variety of funding levels, but donors can also pledge their own amount of financial support. Organizers have listed a goal of $5,000, of which nearly half has been raised since the campaign was unofficially launched three weeks ago.

Pape says that the funds will allow for the purchase of 15 cold frames to protect the plants from cold weather, irrigation systems, rain barrels, four new fruit trees, work stations and potting benches, and all the materials needed to stock a Garden Kitchen – electric skillets, mixing bowls, knives, utensils, salad spinner, camp stove and more.

Since reopening in 2013, the Rothenberg Rooftop School Garden has served as an active learning experience for Cincinnati Public Schools students, and also provided students at Rothenberg Preparatory Academy with fresh, healthy foods to eat. In fact, the garden allows for daily gardening lessons to be integrated into the students’ curriculum, with each teacher at the school managing a garden bed that has a space for each student within the class.

The happy hour fundraising event tonight at Goodfellas Pizzeria, located at 1211 Main Street, will take place from 5pm to 8pm. Entrance to the event will cost $20, which will support the fundraising effort but also get you pizza and a beer.

Long-Planned $30M Lytle Tunnel Rehabilitation to Begin Next Week

Ohio Department of Transportation officials have announced that work will begin next week on the $30 million rehabilitation of Lytle Tunnel.

Construction crews will begin work on Tuesday, May 26 to add ITS cameras, a fire detection system, upgrade tunnel lighting, repair existing concrete and tiling, upgrade mechanical and ventilation systems, install a new power supply and replace existing underground vaults under the Fourth Street sidewalk.

In addition to this, ODOT crews will move the tunnel’s ventilation system and add new access hatches to several locations so as to not interfere with future plans for Lytle Park.

The work will require Lytle Park itself, and portions of Lytle Street to be closed while construction takes place. Gary Middleton, ODOT District 8 Acting Deputy Director, says that the effort will take approximately two years, with completion coming near the end of 2017.

Over that period of time, the work is expected to cause some headaches for those driving in the immediate area. In particular, project officials are saying that they will go to great lengths to avoid impacts during major events like the All-Star Game, Riverfest and Oktoberfest.

While numerous small disruptions will occur, project officials have noted that the work will force an entire weekend closure of southbound I-71 and the southbound I-71 ramp to Third Street. The southbound I-71 ramp to Third Street will be closed at a later period for 20 consecutive calendar days. The longest closure off all, however, will be when the Second Street ramp to northbound I-71 is closed for 60 consecutive calendar days.

While some scheduling details have yet to be ironed out, Middleton says that a detailed road closure schedule will be released in mid-June.

The road closures will add to those already found all over the center city due to the huge volume of construction taking place that is adding hundreds of residences, hotel rooms, offices and introducing new public transportation and park amenities.

While officials at the City of Cincinnati have not made a specific statement on the matter, the road closures, once finalized, are expected to be posted and updated on RoadmapCincy.com.

The work may also require the closure of the eastern portions of the 2.3-acre park to be closed for up to 10 months.

“This essential project will complete a major rehabilitation of the tunnel and its mechanical and electrical systems, improve safety for drivers and first responders, and ensure future maintenance activities minimize impacts to traveling public and users of the park,” Middleton said.

While the work on Lytle Tunnel, which was originally built in 1970, will be largely unseen, the updates will bring the tunnel into compliance with current fire codes and design standards. It is also presenting a unique opportunity to make improvements to Lytle Park at the same time – an effort that Western & Southern Financial Group has been strongly advocating.

According to ODOT documents, the project is currently on-schedule, but is now estimated to cost approximately $8 million more than what was originally planned.