Townhomes Removed from Development Plan for The Banks

Hamilton County leaders announced last Thursday that they had struck a deal with the Cincinnati Bengals regarding a number of issues pertaining to the county’s stadium contract with the team.

The biggest component of that new agreement is that the Bengals will waive their veto right over the heights of buildings at The Banks. This clause in the stadium deal, signed in 1997, delayed the start of construction of Phase IIA work at The Banks by more than a year, and posed a significant risk to the City of Cincinnati in its efforts to lure General Electric and its new Global Operations Center to the central riverfront.

Now that the agreement is signed, developers of The Banks have announced that they will immediately begin construction on Phase IIA project that will include 291 apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail space.

Should the city succeed in its efforts to land General Electric’s facility at The Banks, it is expected that its new office tower would either be located at the office pad within the Phase I footprint, or more likely on top of the street-level retail adjacent to the apartment midrise at Phase IIA.

The development team believes both sites could accommodate the approximately 400,000 square feet of office space desired by General Electric.

The announcement also brought with it renewed questions about the status of the hotel at Phase I, located immediately across the street from Great American Ball Park. On that note, the developers said that they are still working to sign a hotel operator for the space, and that it is unlikely it will be completed ahead of the 2015 MLB All-Star Game.

That leaves only one element of Phase I of The Banks still in question – the oft-forgotten townhomes lining the Schmidlapp Event Lawn.

When asked about the status of the townhomes, and if their delay in moving forward was related to constructability issues with the adjacent and unbuilt hotel site, Libby Korosec, spokeswoman for The Banks development team, said that there are no longer plans for townhomes at that location.

Korosec went on to say that the future of that particular site has yet to be determined, but that it is possible it could be used as part of the hotel, but that no decisions have been made.

“That site was originally planned to have six to eight townhomes, which is not really an efficient number to go in and build,” Korosec explained. “Not only was it not efficient, but it also wasn’t going to be a very good environment for townhomes with all the in and out traffic nearby.”

Korosec noted that the elimination of townhomes from the Phase I footprint does not mean that townhomes will not be built elsewhere. In fact, she said that the development team believes there are other sites at The Banks that would be better suited for such housing.

Part of the change can also be explained by the housing bubble that burst around the time construction started at the site.

“The market on condos and townhomes turned south just when we signed the MDA,” Korosec said. “However, homeownership via condos is still a strong possibility at The Banks for future phases should the market demand it.”

The development team opted to forgo building condos at $91 million Phase IA of The Banks, and instead built apartments due to the housing downturn. The decision has proved successful as apartments at The Banks fetch some of the highest prices per square foot in the region and have a waiting list of approximately 60 people.

Since that time the MDA was signed, however, the owner-occupied housing market has shown signs of life throughout the center city where there is currently little supply available. Recent developments, led by 3CDC in Over-the-Rhine, have sold quickly and, in some cases, for more than $300 per square foot.

The Banks development has drawn a significant amount of publicity since its first phase opened in 2011, but work is far from over at the massive riverfront project site. As of now, The Banks is only approximately one-third of the way built out.

PHOTOS: Cincinnati’s ‘Pill Hill’ Continues to Grow Taller

The expansion of the region’s medical institutions has not only been outward to new communities, but also upward within the medical treatment and research cluster that has formed in the Uptown area.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has been growing at, perhaps, the fastest clip of any company or organization in the region. The renowned pediatric research institution is continuing to grow with a $180 million tower currently under construction in Avondale.

Just a 15-minute walk to the south, construction equipment works at a frenzied pace in Mt. Auburn where Christ Hospital is in the midst of a $265 million expansion that includes a new Orthopedic & Spine Center.

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The following five photographs were taken at each construction site in April 2014. All photographs were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Comprehensive Study Needed to Examine Cincinnati’s Migration Problem

Cincinnati has a problem with attracting immigrants.

While it is the largest metropolitan region in Ohio, Cincinnati lags behind both Cleveland and Columbus in attracting foreign migrants. Even as Cleveland continues to lose population and struggles with a weak economy, Cincinnati, with its much stronger economy and national recognition, attracts fewer of America’s newest residents.

More alarmingly, at 4.6%, Cincinnati ranks behind all of its regional competitors (Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis) in percentage of foreign-born population. Columbus (10.5%) and Indianapolis (8.4%) have double or nearly-double the percentage of foreign born population. Cincinnati only bests Pittsburgh and Louisville in terms of attracting immigrants over the past three years.

International Migration 2010-2013

The United States as a whole continues to attract millions of new immigrants. They’re just not coming to Cincinnati at the same rate as elsewhere.

Mayor John Cranley’s (D) recent announcement to start an initiative to grow the immigrant population in Cincinnati is a welcome one. With statistics showing that immigrants are more likely than non-immigrant Americans to start a business, a flux of foreign residents would be good for Cincinnati’s economy in more than one way.

Cranley is not unique among mayors in cities across the nation that have suffered massive population losses since the 1950s. From Baltimore and Philadelphia, to Detroit and Dayton, cities across the country are now targeting immigrant communities in order to help bolster populations and foster economic growth.

Preferably, Cincinnati’s quest to attract new immigrants will be part of a larger plan to attract new residents, period. While lagging behind in attracting immigrants, the region also continues to shed existing residents to other parts of the country.

International - Domestic Migration in 2013

Local leaders should authorize a comprehensive study to find out why Cincinnati struggles so greatly with attracting domestic and international migrants. With a growing economy and incredible regional assets, there is no reason why Cincinnati should fail so miserably at attracting new people.

It may prove wise to set city funds aside to create some sort of media blitz that touts the benefits of the city and the surrounding region. With a recent Gallup poll showing that 138 million people around the world would choose to move to the United States if given the opportunity, the market for new immigrants is surely present. Some sort of economic incentive would help as well. Tax breaks for immigrant businesses and incentives to live within city limits will help attract immigrants of all economic levels.

It is not a stretch to imagine that Columbus’ ability to attract and retain so many more immigrants than Cincinnati is due to the presence of Ohio State University, one of the nation’s most prominent public universities. As a result, Cranley should take heed and foster greater cooperation between the City of Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, using those nationally-recognized institutions to attract even more newcomers.

At the end of the day, however, immigration is a national issue. For that reason, regional leadership should be in active dialogue with Cincinnati’s Congressional delegation and lobby them to support immigration reform and initiatives that will help attract immigrants not just to the U.S. in general, but to the Cincinnati region specifically.

Connoisseurs, Novices Can Start Getting ‘Half Cut’ at OTR’s New Beer Cafe Today

Tom O'Brien and Jack HeekinOver-the-Rhine will welcome another craft beer establishment when HalfCut Beer Cafe opens at southeast corner of Twelfth and Walnut Streets today.

In what seems to be a trend in the competitive OTR beer marketplace, HalfCut will attempt to distinguish itself from the rest with a unique twist – it is a beer café where their “beeristas” will help recommend beer choices and get to know their customers in a relaxed setting much like a coffee shop.

“When someone walks up to the counter, you’ll get to learn and sample different beers in a way that’s different than other bars,” Jack Heekin, HalfCut co-owner, told UrbanCincy. “We’ll learn where each customer is in their journey, and we’ll work with them.”

Heekin says that the important thing is understanding and getting to know each customer’s palate; saying that not everyone wants to try every beer, but that HalfCut will aim to inform them about the particular brewery and process used to make each particular beer.

To that end, the owners say that while they will have 16 taps at first, they will all be styled the same as to avoid people choosing a beer based on their familiarity with it or their fondness for its tap design. Later they will have the ability to expand to 32 taps.

The philosophy is one that was not crafted overnight. Instead, it came about during a more than 6,000-mile road trip in the name of beer education.

“What we’re really trying to do is add something that’s unique to Cincinnati,” Heekin explained. “When we were on our road trip we came up with this linear process of learning and wanted to bring it back to Cincinnati.”

This will not be the first attempt, for this group, to bring something new to Cincinnati. Several years ago the same team launched the now seemingly omnipresent Pedal Wagon, which is a 14-seat bike that can be reserved for special events and pub crawls. After starting with just one wagon in 2012, they now have three on Cincinnati’s streets and one in Columbus, with several more to be added later this year.

“Pedal Wagon helped us learn how to make something from nothing,” Heekin noted. “It made us realize how important it is to focus on both the customers and workers, and also how important it is to differentiate your idea.”

The group immediately differentiated HalfCut by launching a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo. While the campaign had aimed to raise $5,000 to help with build out costs of the 800-square-foot establishment, they ultimately raised nearly double that.

Heekin says that HalfCut also received some financial assistance from the Greater Cincinnati Microenterprise Initiative’s Microcity Loan.

The cozy HalfCut interior seats about 30 people and features tables and seating that are much lower to the ground than most bars. In an effort to keep the atmosphere relaxed, the owners also say that music will be set at a low volume and that they will close at 10:30pm during the week, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6pm on Sundays.

To the owners, HalfCut, which is a 1920s slang term for the perfect state of mind after a couple of beers, is not the kind of place to go out and get hammered, but rather the type of place where you might go for some good conversation.

While they are unable to brew their own beer on site, HalfCut will offer a number of locally brewed beers as well as an extensive collection of craft beers from around the country that Heekin says are difficult to find elsewhere in the region.

Customers are able to choose from both an in-house and a to-go selection of beers. Those looking to take some beer home with them, either from the counter or HalfCut’s walk-up window on Twelfth Street, can choose between 32- or 64-ounce growlers, 22-ounce bombers (similar to a wine glass look), and standard or mixed six-packs.

Gomez Salsa will also soon be operating out of the walk-up window, selling tacos, burritos, taco salads and other items. This walk-up window along Twelfth Street was previously home to Lucy Blue Pizza, which relocated two blocks away on Main Street in March 2013.

Those who decide to stay inside and linger, perhaps to enjoy the 20-foot mural from Neltner Small Batch, will be able to order flights, pints, or 22-ounce bombers of any beer on tap, and also choose from 20 to 25 rotating bottle selections.

Heekin and co-owner Tom O’Brien said they signed a nine-year lease on the space and have hired eight employees. They will start serving customers today at 4pm.

All photographs by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Indianapolis Developer to Continue Oakley’s Housing Boom with 272-Unit Project

Yet another Indianapolis-based developer is entering the hot Cincinnati residential market. This time the developer is Buckingham Companies and the location is Oakley.

According to the Business Courier, an UrbanCincy content partner, Buckingham has been eyeing the Cincinnati market for some time. They decided that now was the time to move on the seven-acre site immediately southeast from the $120 million Oakley Station development which will include nearly 600,000 square feet of office and retail space, 302 apartments and a movie theater at full build out.

The developers are citing the location’s close proximity to Downtown and the neighborhood walkability offered in now-booming east side city neighborhood as the main draws.

Buckingham hopes to break ground on the project this May and open the summer of 2015. At full build out the project will include 272 apartments in seven, three-story buildings. Residences will range from 812 to 1,600 square feet and likely cost around $1 to $1.50 per square foot.

The development says that they will pursue LEED for Homes, the U.S. Green Building Council‘s newest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications, for the project.

The site is located immediately adjacent to a freight rail line owned by CSX, and currently includes two industrial warehouse buildings and approximately 11 single-family homes along Cardiff Avenue. Both the homes and the warehouses date back to the early 1900s. Initial reports indicated that the developers may renovate one of warehouses into 41 apartments.

The project announcement comes immediately after the developers acquired seven of the properties earlier this week. Of the remaining five homes, three are held by separate, unaffiliated LLCs and the other two are listed by the Hamilton County Auditor as owned by individuals who live elsewhere.

Popular St. Louis-Based Pi Pizzeria to Open Cincinnati Location in AT580 Building

Pi Pizzeria is set to open its seventh location, and only its second outside of St. Louis. The Cincinnati location will be in the AT580 building at 6th and Main Streets, one block from the Contemporary Arts Center, 21c Museum Hotel, and Aronoff Center, near several major corporate headquarters, including Procter & Gamble, and within walking distance of the riverfront and sports stadiums. The restaurant will seat approximately 125 and is being designed by SPACE Architecture of St. Louis.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OH

“We’ve been admiring the Cincinnati market for a few years now, but just started our search about a year ago,” Pi Co-owner Chris Sommers told nextSTL. “We are amazed at the resurgence of Downtown and OTR, and had to be a part of it.” Sommers has had his eye on Cincinnati for some time before finally signing a lease. Chris’s wife Anne Schuermann Sommers is from Cincinnati and the couple visits frequently.

AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHGoogle Streetview of 6th and Main in Cincinnati.

In addition to serving award-winning thin crust and deep dish pizzas with a signature corn meal crust, the restaurant focuses on local brews and plans to serve only St. Louis and Cincinnati beers. “We are also very excited to partner with our hometown St. Louis’ largest local brewer Schlafly, featuring their beers for the first time ever in Ohio,” Sommers shared. The St. Louis Brewery, maker of Schlafly beers, is the largest craft brewer in St. Louis at 60,000 barrels per year. Schlafly produces Pi Common, a take on the Anchor Steam beer that started the craft brewing revolution.

A variety of beers from the burgeoning brewery scene in Cincinnati will be featured. “The brewing scene has exploded in Cincinnati and we can’t wait to pour as many local craft beers as possible,” stated Sommers. Pi Partners with local breweries in St. Louis and Washington D.C., hosting events, tap takeovers and offering custom brews, available exclusively at Pi. They plan to do the same in Cincinnati. Sommers also envisions a streetcar beer crawl once the line is running. The Cincinnati Streetcar will run on Main street past Pi.

Although created for internal design purposes, Pi agreed to share this video exclusively with nextSTL and UrbanCincy:

Sommers waited out the streetcar debate before committing to a Cincinnati location. “We choose our locations based on major transit lines, and feel the streetcar will be game-changing for Cincinnati,” Sommers told nextSTL. Pi’s original St. Louis location is located in the transit-rich Delmar Loop, the downtown St. Louis Pi sits atop a MetroLink station, and the D.C. restaurant is near both Metro Center and Chinatown Stations.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis Pi location.

Pi at the MX - St. Louis, MOThe Downtown St. Louis and Cincinnati Pi restaurant locations share many similarities (via Google Streetview).

The original Pi location opened in the City of Louis on Delmar Boulevard in 2008. Later that year, then Senator Obama visited St. Louis, speaking to an estimated 100,000 people at the Arch. An aide from Obama’s campaign was sent to get pizza and chose his favorite new pizzeria, Pi. The President became a fan and Sommers and Co-owner Frank Uible personally delivered Pi pizza to the White House for a 2009 dinner.

Capitalizing on the publicity, Pi opened a location in D.C.’s Penn Quarter in 2011. There are now four locations in the St. Louis area, including the Delmar Loop, Downtown St. Louis, Kirkwood, and Chesterfield. A Pi Truck also roams the roads and was used extensively to test the market in both downtown St. Louis and D.C. before opening brick and mortar locations. Sommers and Uible recently opened Gringo, a Mexican restaurant, in St. Louis’ Central West End, and have explored other restaurant concepts.

Pi was recently back in the Presidential spotlight, as it was recognized during the President’s weekly radio address for increasing employee minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The Pi mention is at 1:31 in the video below. The current minimum wage in Missouri is $7.50 an hour, and $7.95 in Ohio. Pi employees in Ohio will make a minimum wage of $10.10.

Pi at AT580 Building - Cincinnati, OHA screen grab from above video shows street level design.

The AT580 building has been largely vacant since 2011 when Great American Insurance Company moved a couple blocks to Queen City Square, a building that happens to have been designed by Gyo Obata of the St. Louis architecture firm HOK. The 17-story tower was designed by RTKL Associates and Harry Hake & Partners for Southern Ohio Bank. Construction was completed in 1974.

The building sold in 2012 for $16M, the minimum bid allowed as a sheriff’s sale, after the owner had defaulted on its loan. The tower was again sold in early 2013 to Anderson Birkla Investment Partners of Indianapolis for $13.7 million. The new owner has proposed 179 apartments, 48,000 sf of retail space on two levels and 181,000 sf of office space, expected to be anchored by Fifth Third Bank. Last year, the Cincinnati city council approved of a 12-year property tax exemption valued at $4.8M.

If all goes according to plan, build out will begin in the coming weeks and a grand opening could be held in August.

This article is cross-posted at nextSTL.com