Winners of ULI Competition Propose Bold Infill Development for Walnut Hills

ULI Hines Cincinnati Competition Winning TeamIn an effort to reach a younger audience and provide real life experiences to students and future professionals of the construction and development industry, the Urban Land Institute Cincinnati Chapter collaborated with the University of Cincinnati in a local competition that offered a $5,000 prize to a winning design for infill development proposals for the Walnut Hills neighborhood.

The competition was modeled after the ULI Hines National Competition, which calls for unique interdisciplinary work among student teams from throughout the country for feasible urban development concepts.

The Cincinnati competition, however, went one step further by including a mentoring program, in which local professionals worked directly with student teams over an eight-week period in September and October. The 17 participating students came from the University of Cincinnati’s schools of Architecture, Urban Planning and Real Estate.

The participants were divided into four teams, each with assigned ULI professional mentors well recognized for their achievements in their respective fields. Weekly lectures were also provided by professionals in local real estate, architecture and urban planning and design offices in order to expose the students to case studies and useful tools commonly used in professional practice.

In an effort to diversify academic participation, the Niehoff Urban Studio once again collaborated with the Lindner College of Business Real Estate Center and the University’s ProPel program to organize the course. Additional participation and assistance was provided by the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation acting as the chief client, while BHDP Architecture established the competition brief.

The work culminated on Monday, October 27 at the ULI Studio Competition Reception and Award Ceremony at the Niehoff Urban Studio’s Community Design Center in Corryville.

During this closing event, each team was given 40 minutes to make the case for their proposal and field questions from eight-member judging committee comprised of Brian Copfer (CORE Resources, Inc.); Traci Boeing (WesBanco Bank); Jeanne Schroer (Catalytic Development Funding Corporation of Northern Kentucky); Eric J. Gardner, MAI, CCIM (Pillar Valuation Group, Inc.); Graham Kalbli, AIA, AICP, LEED AP (New Republic); Kevin Wright (Walnut Hills Re-development Foundation); Jeff Raser, AIA, LEED-AP (Glaserworks); and Craig Gossman (Gossman Group).

The winning team, which included Kyle Zook (SAID-DAAP), Bahareh Rezaee (SOP-DAAP), Yue Yan (SOP-DAAP) and Rocky Grewal (Finance-College of Business), was awarded the competition’s $5,000 prize.

Although diverse in nature, the competing designs responded to existing form based code guidelines, the historic neighborhood context, and a mixed-use program brief which called for the incorporation of residential, live/work and retail uses. The winning team’s design set itself apart, however, by using the concept of continuity to aggregate the mixed-use program and buildings around a central public space.

Called Firehouse Row, the winning design addressed three blocks of McMillan Street near the center of Walnut Hills. The location is well-suited for infill since each lot is primarily vacant and surrounded by neighborhood residences.

“The design for a mixed use development on the site was comprised of a variety of methodologies intended to create a relationship with the surrounding public and implement a notion of connectivity not only within the building but also spanning across the different blocks,” the winning team explained.

“At a time of heightened interest for the neighborhood and the possibility of increasing densities, an approach of flexible spaces that cater to the present day inhabitants, and what shifting demographics may follow, was implemented in order to mitigate wasted and vacant spaces.”

While primarily an academic exercise focused on the experience of working in a professional setting, the competition aimed to better prepare students in urban development fields to respond to real world situations and work environments. It also provides leaders in the increasingly hot neighborhood with a vision for how the area could be developed.

Redesigned Streetscapes Could Turn Fourth and Race Streets Into Vibrant Public Spaces

Fourth Street offers one of the more impressive urban street canyons in all of America. Its pre-war high-rises dominate the streetscape and offer a glimpse into the proud history of Cincinnati.

Once the very center of business activity, Fourth Street was historically known as the region’s financial district – a place where all the power players lingered and conducted business. Since its heyday in the early 20th century, that center of financial clout has shifted. Some say it has shifted to Third Street, while others say it has moved east along Fourth or even north to Fifth Street.

In any case, many of those power players are now in other nearby districts, while the impressive structures they built are left behind.

City leaders had believed, with good reason, that Fourth Street would become the region’s premier shopping destination. However, with the demise of downtown malls and department stores, that vision never fully came to be.

All has not been lost though. Virtually all of the impressive, historic urban fabric remains and has since been largely converted into residential space. There is also a movement afoot from some business and civic leaders to breathe new life into not only Fourth Street’s retail scene, but Race Street’s as well.

Part of the ongoing transformation includes Mabley Place, which converted the former Tower Place Mall into a parking garage with street-level retail, the proposed 30-story residential tower that would replace the aging Pogue’s Garage, and the nearby and soon-to-open dunnhumbyUSA headquarters tower.

There is even the possibility of Fourth Street being converted back to two-way traffic following the activation of the now unused ramp to I-75 from Third Street.

As all of these projects start to become reality, they offer a unique opportunity to redo the public space in the area. One particular area that has long needed a redo, and has been the subject of many studio projects at DAAP, is Fourth Street’s dated streetscaping. Not only does the design of the sidewalks, benches and street trees leave much to be desired, they also do not follow standard good design practices.

The renovation of Fountain Square realized this and implemented good urban design practices in its final product. Things like softscaping and movable furniture are powerful elements to a good public space. The same could be done along Fourth Street’s, and for that matter much of Race Street’s, wide sidewalk widths.

Being in the midst of the digital age, it would also make sense to make the area more welcoming to tech users by implementing Internet hot spots and including solar-powered charging stations at benches and tables set up along the street.

Specifically, the areas best suited for such a transformation would be the north side of Fourth Street between Vine and Elm, and the east side of Race Street between Fifth and Seventh.

With more and more hotels opening up downtown in general, and specifically on or very near Fourth Street, this public space could also serve as a convenient and desirable ‘third place’ for travelers that are looking to spend some time out in the city, without feeling obligated to purchase endless cups of coffee or beer, but not also be trapped inside their hotel room.

Such a design could also activate the largely lifeless corridor with people from all backgrounds, and provide more passing customers for existing and potential businesses looking to setup shop there.

With all the construction taking place and about to get started, it would make most sense to leverage these private investments to improve this public space at the same time. Heck, it might even be the perfect opportunity to connect the new Central Parkway Cycle Track with the Ohio River Trail.

State officials in Washington dramatically revise their VMT projections downward

Well, we have been seeing this trend unfold for years now. We seem to have hit peak VMT back in 2007, and have missed VMT projections from departments of transportation for many years. Up until now, that hasn’t affected anyone’s models. Instead many transportation officials have claimed that VMT would bounce back. But in Washington, they have decided to revise their projections to match new realities. More from Streetsblog USA:

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, for example, has overestimated traffic on its roads by an average of 73 percent, according to a recent study. And Dallas-area planners recently produced traffic projections that predicted a much larger increase in driving than the state DOT was even predicting. That’s why a new traffic forecast from the Washington State Office of Fiscal Management is so interesting: It actually acknowledges how travel habits are changing.

In its most recent financial forecast, the agency has abandoned the assumption of never-ending traffic growth that it employed as recently as last year. Instead, the agency has responded to recent trends, even projecting that total traffic will start to decline within the next ten years.

Beijing to Moscow has better passenger rail service than Cincinnati to Chicago

A route has been identified for a new Trans-Siberian high-speed rail route that would connect Moscow with Beijing. An existing route has been in place for more than 50 years, but takes six days to complete. The new route, by contrast, would complete the trip in just two days. For some perspective, the current Trans-Siberia route (4,350 miles) operates twice per week, which is the same level of service connecting Cincinnati and Chicago (300 miles). More from The Daily Mail:

The project would cost more than $230bn and be over 7,000km long – more than three times the world’s current longest high-speed line, from the Chinese capital to the southern city of Guangzhou. The railway would be a powerful physical symbol of the ties that bind Moscow and Beijing, whose political relationship has roots dating from the Soviet era and who often vote together on the UN Security Council.

Can Metro, Megabus Come to Terms on Moving the Intercity Bus Operator Into the Riverfront Transit Center?

Following the announcement last week that Megabus would relocate its downtown Cincinnati stop to a parking lot at 691 Gest Street in Queensgate, there has been a new round of public calls for the intercity bus operator to move its stop into the underutilized Riverfront Transit Center.

The move is just the latest in a series of moves after Megabus was forced out of its original stop at Fourth and Race due to construction taking place at Mabley Place, and complaints from neighbors about noise and loitering. Those complaints have since plagued Megabus as it has tried to find a new stop somewhere in the center city.

Perhaps the most troublesome complaint has been allegations of public urination at Megabus stops by their riders. As a result, city leaders have been looking for a more permanent stop location that includes public restrooms. This has led to a number of people to suggest Findlay Market and the Horseshoe Casino, near the existing Greyhound station, as possible locations.

But through all of this there appears to be a growing sentiment that the Riverfront Transit Center be used not only to accommodate Megabus, but all intercity bus operators serving Cincinnati.

“There is, of course, plenty of parking available, and riders can wait in a safe and secure enclosed area, out of the elements and with restrooms available,” stated Derek Bauman, urban development consultant and chairman of Cincinnatians for Progress. “Megabus will benefit by finally having a permanent home that was built for just this purpose.”

In addition to there being plenty of parking nearby, the Riverfront Transit Center, designed to accommodate up to 500 buses and 20,000 passengers per hour, also has plenty of capacity.

Beyond Megabus, there may be an even greater upside for other operators, like Greyhound and Barons Bus, to relocate into the Riverfront Transit Center.

“Greyhound could benefit by moving from and selling its current location near the casino, which would then be ripe for development as a hotel or other higher use. This would also save the company millions in capital dollars to fund needed upgrades and rehab of the current facility.”

As has been noted by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), someone who has served as a leader on trying to find a solution to this problem, there are difficulties with getting Megabus and others into the transit center neatly tucked beneath Second Street.

The Riverfront Transit Center is technically owned by the City of Cincinnati and operated by Metro, which uses the facility Metro*Plus layover, special events and leases some of its east and west aprons for parking. According to transit agency officials, these operations generate approximately $480,000 in annual revenue and net roughly $170,000 in annual profit for Metro.

Therefore, any new operators or changes to this structure would not only present logistical issues, but also potentially negatively affect Metro’s finances unless new revenues are collected – something Megabus has not been particularly keen of thus far.

“It’s our understanding that Megabus pays a fee to share transit facilities in other cities,” Sallie Hilvers, Metro’s Executive Director of Communications, told UrbanCincy. “As a tax-supported public service, Metro would need to recover the increased costs related to maintenance, utilities, security, etc. from Megabus, which is a for-profit company.”

Hilvers also stated that while Metro is open to the idea, that there would also be some legal and regulatory issues that would also need to be addressed.

Nevertheless, the Riverfront Transit Center seems to be the logical place to consolidate intercity bus operators. The facility is enclosed, includes bathrooms, waiting areas, is centrally located and within close proximity to other transportation services such as Government Square, Cincinnati Streetcar and Cincy Red Bike.

“Welcoming visitors to Cincinnati at the RTC at The Banks showcases our city and is much more welcoming than a random street corner in Queensgate outside of downtown,” Bauman emphasized. “This just makes sense, it’s as simple as that. Everyone involved should continue do whatever is necessary to come to an agreement and make it happen.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) did not respond to UrbanCincy‘s request for comment on this story.