Building Code Changes May Allow Higher-Density Midrise Construction

Changes adopted in the 2015 International Building Code (IBC), combined with advances in wood technology, may soon allow for taller midrise buildings at lower costs than what has previously been possible.

The importance of the changes to the IBC should not be overlooked, since it serves as a model building code throughout most of the United States. This means that states and local jurisdictions who lack the expertise to develop their own building code typically adopt a code written by an independent standards organization such as the International Code Council.

In fact, all 50 states and the federal government now use variations of the IBC, with the exception of Chicago which remains as the only major city in the United States with its own proprietary building code.

Under current codes, and with typical construction technology, the upper limit for a wood-frame building is five stories atop a one-story steel or concrete “podium” base that may include retail spaces, parking and/or other functions – essentially treating the two components of the building as two independent structures. What the revised IBC does is allow for the height of this podium base to be increased to more than one story, and recognizes the use of newer technologies such as cross-laminated timber in building construction.

This update does not yet apply to projects in Ohio, as the state has not yet adopted the 2015 version of the IBC. Also, height limits set by the IBC are distinct from those set by local zoning codes. In the case of a conflict between the provisions of two or more applicable codes, the more stringent provisions typically apply.

Such “One-Plus-Five” buildings are becoming increasingly common in American cities as neighborhoods within urban cores once again become desirable places to live. Local examples include U-Square at The Loop in Clifton Heights and the Gantry Apartments in Northside, both designed by Cincinnati-based CR Architecture + Design.

This building type and the forthcoming code changes offer a number of opportunities and challenges for urban neighborhoods.

The code changes are potentially good news for both the environment and affordable housing advocates. Wood construction, when it utilizes sustainable sources, is far less damaging to the environment than steel or concrete construction. It is also far less expensive, allowing new housing to be built and sold at a lower price point than would otherwise be possible.

The biggest concerns with multifamily wood-frame construction typically involve fire safety and noise transmission. Fire sprinkler systems are required throughout such projects; and while no fire protection system will ever be completely fail-safe, sprinklers prevent small fires from becoming large fires. In addition to the sprinklers, fire-rated assemblies prevent a fire from spreading from one portion of the structure to another. For example, the two-hour rated wall typically required between apartments usually consists of two layers of 5/8″ drywall on each side of 2×4 studs.

These and other measures also help prevent sound transmission between apartments.

As anybody who has lived in a large apartment building can attest, noisy neighbors can be a constant source of frustration and often form the bulk of complaints to the landlord. With wood-frame construction, the addition of resilient channels between the finish ceiling and the joists above, as well as a thin layer of concrete between the sub-floor and finish floor, can drastically reduce sound transmission.

None of this is intended as a commentary on the architectural merit of such projects, nor their appropriateness in particular neighborhoods. Building codes such as the IBC are almost solely concerned with matters of life safety and accessibility, while matters regarding density and appropriateness for a particular neighborhood would fall under the purview of local zoning codes.

As for architectural merit, such matters are up to the developer, the architect, and the community. Good taste isn’t something that can be dictated by statute.

Federal Reserve Finds Cincinnati Out-Performing Many Of Its Regional, National Peers

The Vice President and Senior Regional Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland‘s Cincinnati Branch, LaVaughn Henry, says that the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area continues to show positive signs in recovering from the Great Recession, and is moving toward a position of long-term growth.

At approximately 2% higher than its pre-recession level, Henry says that per capita GDP in the Cincinnati area is out-performing other nearby metropolitan areas, along with the rest of Ohio.

Likewise, the unemployment rate is lower in Cincinnati than other metropolitan areas nearby. It is currently 4.1%, the lowest level in a decade. However, employment is still nearly 2% below its pre-recession level in the Cincinnati region.

The construction industry has seen large employment gains in the area, driven by increased home sales but also by Cincinnati’s ongoing center city construction boom.

Henry reports that the region’s manufacturing is also growing healthily, surpassing the growth seen both nationally and state-wide. This growth, he says, reflects increased demand from the aviation and automobile sectors of the U.S. economy. These two sectors, however, only account for 4% and 10% of the metropolitan GDP, respectively.

Larger sectors like transportation and utilities, while still seeing growth, are increasing at a slower pace.

Cincinnati Lags Milwaukee In Establishing Itself As Hub For Water Technology

Water’s importance, not only as a natural resource but as a driver of innovation and new technology, has been much-touted recently. While Cincinnati has hosted meetings and been pin-pointed as a national focus area for water innovation, impressive progress in this sector can be seen further north in Milwaukee.

Sitting on Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is a natural candidate for water innovation technology. As far back as 2006, a group of local business leaders created The Water Council with the intended goal of developing cooperation between the more than 100 water-related businesses and universities, government agencies, and other means of support.

Initiatives like B.R.E.W. (Business. Research. Entrepreneurship. In Wisconsin.) are among the many activities The Water Council supports.

Because of Milwaukee’s important water industry, those groups involved with The Water Council are creating the Water Technology District – intended to be a cluster and hub of innovation in the water industry. The city, looking to help The Water Council incubate water-related businesses in Milwaukee, has committed to developing the Reed Street Yards.

Dissected by the Menomonee River, the Reed Street Yards is a former rail yard, truck depot, and brownfield site in close proximity to downtown and with large amounts of available space for development.

The result has been the Global Water Technology Park.

Infrastructure within the park reflects the intentions of the involved organizations. The new public access road Freshwater Way, for example, is paved with PaveDrain, which is a water-friendly permeable surface. This permeable material was developed by a local company that now rents space in the business park. A special pipe system also helps pump recycled water to buildings to be used in non-potable functions like landscaping.

The city’s gamble on helping create this district seems to be paying off already: they recently attracted the global headquarters of a manufacturer of plumbing products focused on sustainability.

The Water Council’s headquarters is also in the business park, which houses university departments, startups, and other organizations. The space is 100% occupied and there are already concrete plans to open a second office.

Furthermore, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee now has the first graduate program in the country solely for freshwater research in their School of Freshwater Sciences; and they have since established a campus in the business park as well.

Extending beyond only water innovation and technology, the development around this sector has revitalized the local Walker’s Point neighborhood. Formerly highlighted by abandoned warehouses, the neighborhood has seen an increase in businesses and apartments.

Cincinnati, long-defined by the Ohio River, is an obvious candidate for similar development.

In March 2014, Cincinnati hosted the EPA’s Water Technology Innovation Cluster Meeting, the first gathering of its kind for national water-related groups and companies. Confluence, a local water-focused group representing Cincinnati, Dayton, Northern Kentucky, and Southeast Indiana, was present at the meeting.

And on November 12, the Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati hosted an event to discuss how the region’s water technology resources can be better leveraged for innovation throughout the region. The meeting, called Liquid Gold: the Cincinnati ‘Water’ Technology Story, aimed to bring together the several clusters already focusing on this local asset; and featured local nonprofits, businesses, and other groups.

While these conferences show an interest in the topic, the region has thus far lacked a concerted effort on the part of local government, academia, and the private sector in advancing water innovation. Milwaukee has proven that this level of cooperation is needed to jump-start an industry that will continue to grow in importance (and employment) in the coming decades.

$3.3M Boone Block Redevelopment To Bolster Covington’s Resurgence

Last Friday city leaders gathered in Covington to celebrate the ground breaking for the $3.3 million Boone Block redevelopment project.

Located at 422 Scott Street, the project will result in the creation of nine single-family townhomes ranging from 2,185 square feet to 5,000 square feet in size.

City and project officials see the investment as part of a larger trend that is bringing new life to the heart of historic Northern Kentucky river city. In addition to this project, new commercial space, hotel rooms, residences and educational research space are all planned or in the process of construction in the nearby area.

The project is also evidence of the renewed interest in Cincinnati’s center city. While originally defined by the massive investment that took place in Downtown and then Over-the-Rhine, that investment and interest is now noticeably spreading outward to places like Covington, Mt. Auburn, Newport, Bellevue, Northside, Walnut Hills and the West End.

Project officials note that the Boone Block building was originally constructed in 1872 and still boasts many of its original architectural features. Each of the new residences, they say, will feature a modern interior finish with open floor plans, a gated courtyard, 14-foot ceilings, and an attached one-car parking garage.

So far the project team has pre-sold six of the units, which has provided some of the upfront project financing. In addition to that, the Catalytic Fund has provided mortgage gap financing and the City of Covington has provided a façade grant and development loan to the project.

Interested buyers for the final three available residences are instructed to contact either Rebecca Weber or Joy Amann at Huff Realty for additional information.

WHRF Announces Plans To Redevelop Historic Paramount Building

Last week the Paramount Building at Peebles Corner in Walnut Hills was open to the public for the first time in decades, and UrbanCincy was invited to participate.

The Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, which recently purchased the structure for $750,000 from the Morris Investment Group, allowed several dozen local residents and historic preservation enthusiasts to tour the second and third floor office spaces before the monthly meeting of the Cincinnati Preservation Collective’s monthly meeting.

The WHRF plans to renovate the office floors, as well as the street-level commercial spaces, so the building may return to use as an anchor for the business district.

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However, the tour revealed that the foundation has a significant task ahead in order to make the plan a reality. While it appears that the interior of the building has been secure and not subject to vandalism, there is significant deterioration due to water leaks and open windows. Some rooms were even off limits to the tour due to concerns about structural integrity of floors and ceilings.

Not all was bad though. In fact, a number of attractive original elements remain in place. This includes wooden partitions and glass doors, some of which still retain the stenciled names of the former office occupants.

The Paramount Building, which was built in 1931, originally had a theater attached at the east end along E. McMillan Street, where the CVS Pharmacy now stands. The drug store is part of the property, and provides some cash flow to the WHRF as they undertake renovations.

At the CPC event, WHRF Executive Director Kevin Wright stated that an application was made on the day of the purchase for state historic preservation tax credits. Such tax credits would be instrumental in advancing the project and bringing the prominent structure back to life.

Originally, the building featured a tall spire atop the tower at the corner of Gilbert Avenue and McMillan Street. During World War II, the spire was removed so that the structural metal could be donated to the war effort. Wright announced that he hopes to have the spire rebuilt as part of the renovations.