Physical Redevelopment of Cincinnati Also Reinvigorating Local Art Community

Everyone has heard about the craft beer movement and the desires for locally sourced food, but Cincinnati is also experiencing a similar renaissance in the art community.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) has become well-known for the work they are doing to redevelop the city’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Their work has created hundreds of new residences and dozens of new shops. Perhaps lesser known is the fact that many of these residences and shops are being designed and outfitted with custom, local art.

Area businesses have also begun embracing local artists. At Taste of Belgium, owner Jean-Francois Flechet says that they worked with local carpenters and artists to design all the tables, furniture and even the bar itself at their hub restaurant at Twelfth and Vine Streets. They also commissioned a large art installation behind the bar.

Flechet says that they have continued this pattern at their newer store on Short Vine in Corryville, and even more so at their soon-to-open restaurant in Norwood.

“We are working on a really cool installation at Rookwood Exchange with Dan and Steve from Brave Berlin,” Flechet said referring to the two men behind the Lumenocity concept. As such, the installation at the new Taste of Belgium in Rookwood will be of the visual display variety.

“We will have animated projected artwork from three projectors,” he explained. “The artwork will evolve throughout the day and updated on a regular basis. It will be really fun and different.”

One of the more dramatic pieces of commissioned art in the center city is ‘Aluminnati’ at 3CDC’s new offices. There, at Twelfth and Walnut Streets, a massive piece of artwork was commissioned for the office’s two-story space connecting the reception area on the fourth floor to offices above.

“When the design team for 3CDC’s new offices created the grand interior staircase between our two levels, we knew that an original piece of art should grace the two-story wall,” explained Anastasia Mileham, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at 3CDC.

Created by Jeff Welch, the piece is an aluminum topographical sculpture of Cincinnati’s center city – a fitting installation for a development corporation that is solely focused on that geographic area. It was a job Welch says he truly enjoyed, and one that he thinks defines a growing interest in custom artwork.

“I believe they [3CDC] must support local artists if we are to rebuild Cincinnati to the cherished quality level established by our ancestors, who built OTR entirely with local artists and craftsmen,” Welch told UrbanCincy. “My experience with 3CDC is that they are very good at supporting local artists, at least in the capacity of their new headquarters, where they had total control over the project.”

Welch was not the only local artist producing work for the new 3CDC office building, and he believes that the growing interest in Cincinnati for locally produced and original artwork is part of a larger national trend, largely being driven by the Millennial generation.

“I believe there is a definitely a local trend toward commissioned art, design and craft, and I’m banking my future on it,” said Welch. “All the new restaurants, shops and businesses seem to be in a competition to feature local craft, or they are at least assuming that something has to be made local. It’s definitely a trend nationwide and Cincinnati is right on-point.”

In fact, he believes in the movement so much that after relocating to Cincinnati in 2009, he started his own design company called Modularem. It’s a movement that is not just tied directly to art, but the larger identity and culture of the city.

“I had gone to UC for undergrad in the early 2000s and had soaked up a lot of the city’s amazing urban history,” Welch explained. “But when we read about the streetcar project, we were sold. That single project represented so much commitment to progress, and enthusiasm for the future, that we wanted to be part of it.”

While his story is unique, he is certainly not alone. According to Mileham, the changing culture of the city is at the heart of its revival.

“Local art is at the heart of everything our organization believes in, and what this OTR community is about,” Mileham said. “The Italian Renaissance-style buildings we renovate are hand-crafted art, the restaurateurs who start businesses in our commercial spaces are local artists, we program the civic spaces that we manage with original music and local performing arts groups.”

Report Finds Homelessness Is Decreasing in Hamilton County and Cincinnati

A newly released report shows that homelessness in Cincinnati and Hamilton County declined in 2014 to levels not seen since 2010.

The report comes from Strategies to End Homelessness, a local leader of 30 homeless service organizations. Using data from the Homeless Management Information System, the non-profit organization said that they saw positive results all around.

The number of people on the streets, which saw a large jump in 2013, returned to 2011 levels. Those staying in emergency shelters also dropped by 7% since 2012, which officials say can be attributed to the increase in people being served by permanent housing programs, which has increased 167% since 2010.

Local leaders also say that this drop is also partially a result of their member organizations’ homeless prevention efforts, which Kevin Finn, CEO of Strategies to End Homelessness, told UrbanCincy in March is one of the most critical factors in reducing homelessness.

Since 2011, these organizations have seen only 10.2% of the people served by their shelter diversion programs later become homeless. Finn says that preventing people from needing a shelter is not only effective, but it saves money as well.

“Homelessness prevention activities work and at a fraction of the cost of assisting after a person is already homeless,” said Finn. “Stopping people from ever needing to enter a homeless shelter just makes sense.”

The report found that men make up 59% of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s homeless population, and that some 66% of those that are homeless are black.

One of the national trends is that women and children make up one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. In Cincinnati and Hamilton County, the report found that children are 29% of the area’s homeless – 6% of which are children without adult accompaniment. Furthermore, approximately 15% were found to be veterans.

In all, the number of people on the streets, in shelters, or in transitional programs in all of Hamilton County was 7,810 in 2014.

The Cincinnati area received a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant of $15.4 million earlier this year to combat homelessness. This money has not yet been distributed, but once it does, it will be set aside for non-prevention programs.

Local leaders also have reason to be optimistic due to the ongoing investment in new facilities, through Cincinnati’s Homeless to Homes program, to care for the area’s homeless population.

“In 2015, three improved shelters are opening, significantly improving the quality of services being offered to the homeless in our community,” Finn said. “We are also hoping to expand prevention efforts, so that fewer people will have to experience the trauma of homelessness.”

Here’s How Cincinnati Stacks Up When It Comes to Household Incomes

Recent data released by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program shows that Cincinnati’s middle class slightly worse off than its Midwestern peers, but is about on pace with the national average.

The study, which categorized individual metropolitan areas and gave regional averages, ranked each city’s population based on six household income categories: Bottom 20% ($21,433 and below); Second 20% ($21,433-$41,109); Middle 20% ($41,110-$65,952); Fourth 20% ($65,952-$106,100); Next 15% ($106,100-$200,000); and Top 5% (Above $200,000).

Cincinnati’s percentage of households making less than $21,433, 34.9% of the city’s population, is significantly higher than the Midwestern and national average 25.1% and 20%, respectively. It is also significantly higher than Pittsburgh (27.9%), but lower than Cleveland (43.2%).

The percentage of households in the middle class (I defined this as the Second 20% and Middle 20%), however, is mostly even. Pittsburgh’s middle class population stands at 41.1%, with Cincinnati at 40% and Cleveland at 39.2%. Cincinnati also stands in the middle when it comes to the upper class, with Pittsburgh again leading and Cleveland trailing.

When compared with the rest of Ohio’s cities with more than 100,000 people, Cincinnati is found to have the highest percentage of Top 5% households, while also having the third highest percentage of Bottom 20% households. This, researchers say, follows a national trend where large cities are over-represented in both categories.

A perhaps startling trend is just how poor so many people are across the Midwest and Ohio.

Of Ohio’s four cities with more than 100,000 people, three of them – Cleveland (#2), Toledo (#4) and Cincinnati (#5) – all rank near the top in terms of the highest percentage of their residents falling within the Bottom 20%. While Columbus comes in at #29, this may be due to the city’s large municipal boundaries that account for areas that would in no way be considered part of any of the other three cities.

While, on average, the study found that Midwestern cities tend to have more low income households, and significantly fewer upper class households than the rest of the nation, it also found that Western and Northeastern cities each have high populations of those making over $200,000, although the Northeast has the highest percentage of households making under $21,433.

Researchers did note, however, that these numbers change somewhat when adjusting for cost of housing across metro areas.

Alan Berube, author of the study and a senior fellow and deputy director at the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, also noted that despite media portrayals of some cities being entirely poor, and others being entirely wealthy, virtually all American cities still boast a large middle class.

Clifton Working With City Hall to Complete Funding for Co-Op Grocery

Cliftonites who have raised more than $1 million to establish an “uptrend” neighborhood grocery store got a big boost of support from the City last Monday.

Cincinnati City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee considered a motion by Vice Mayor David Mann (D), who also resides in Clifton, to include a $550,000 loan to the Clifton Market co-op in the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget. While this idea received general support at the time, it was put on hold for further vetting.

City Manager Harry Black’s proposed budget, which was released on Wednesday, included no line item for this project.

To date, 991 people have paid $200 for a share of the $5.6 million market, which would occupy the 21,972-square-foot space, at 319 Ludlow Avenue, that formerly held Keller’s IGA.

Keller’s IGA closed in 2011, and the community has been unsuccessful in several attempts since then to reestablish a neighborhood grocery store there, including local grocer Steve Goessling who sold the building to the Clifton Market group last month.

No grocery store exists within 1.7 miles, and some of the investors live in nearby neighborhoods.

“They all look to getting Clifton Market up and running as a kind of beacon of hope for getting groceries in their neighborhood,” said Charles Marxen, a field director for Clifton Market who often spends time in the newly-bought building to answer residents’ questions. “Having a grocery in this central location is pertinent to the success and well-being of all of the communities around Clifton.”

Adam Hyland, chair of the Clifton Market board, said that the project would restore the economic engine of the business district. He also said that the closure of Keller’s resulted in a 40% drop in business for Ludlow Avenue establishments.

“It was a social space for the community,” he said. “It was an important place for neighbors to see each other and come together.”

Hyland estimates that the new grocery would create between 60 and 70 jobs, and market studies show that it could attract about 15,000 shoppers per week. Financial estimates show that the group could see $13 million in revenue within the first year.

Brian Frank, co-chair of the Food Action Team of local sustainability network Green Umbrella, added that food co-ops have nearly three times as many local food producers contributing as the average major grocer. They also get more than three times of their inventory from local companies, have higher wages, and provide more healthcare benefits.

“Co-ops may be new to Cincinnati, but this sort of an organization has a national presence in our country,” he said. “There are [grocery co-ops in] 38 states that represent $1.7 billion of economic development across this country.”

Councilmember Chris Seelbach (D) was skeptical at first, but changed his mind when he heard that the co-op had a bank on board to support the project.

“They took it upon themselves, after the City tried unsuccessfully to find another person to operate the grocery store, to find a solution,” Seelbach clarified. “They’ve gotten a bank, whose sole purpose is to make money. Banks are not in the business of helping people open grocery stores. They may say that, but they’re not going to take a risk unless the risk is a good one.”

Both Charlie Winburn (R) and Wendell Young (D) also voiced their support for the specific plan, and the actions being taken by the Clifton community.

“What’s really good that’s going on here is that people in Clifton have made it clear, in no uncertain terms, they want this grocery store,” Young said. “They’re not going to go away; they’re going to get that store. I think it would be a shame if we ignore all the hard work that has gone into making this happen by not doing our part to make sure that they’re successful in this effort.”

Several members of the committee, including Winburn, suggested that the funding package could be a grant, loan, forgivable loan, or a combination of several types. While Councilmember Yvette Simpson (D) was also on-board, she expressed a preference for a grant or forgivable loan due to tight profit margins for grocery stores.

Meanwhile, Winburn managed to cast both his doubts and support for the effort to bring a neighborhood grocery store back to Clifton.

“Be cool,” Winburn cautioned. “Be cool now, because you’re talking about the taxpayers’ money and loaning money, and we have to be fair in the process. I think it’s important that our excitement don’t get in the way of having this group having what we call proper vetting and due diligence.”

In lieu of a line item in the City’s budget, he also suggested that there may be grant money available through the Ohio Department of Development.

Regional Economic Hopes and Concerns Shifting As Cities Recover From Great Recession

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s annual survey of its district, jobs and the economy overall continue to remain the top concern for local leaders.

Each year, seeking to gauge ground-level concerns and needs, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland – which includes all of Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, Western Pennsylvania, and the West Virginia Panhandle – conducts a survey of community leaders to assess local challenges around the Fourth District.

In their 2015 survey, jobs remained the number one concern and priority for local leaders throughout region. Skyrocketing to the second place position was a preoccupation with access to quality and affordable housing; while vacant and abandoned properties were third.

While public officials acknowledge that jobs are indeed being created, the concern is about the type of job creation that is occurring in their communities. Part-time jobs, low wages, lack of benefits, and high turnover mean that being able to support a family is out of reach for many of those working in these newly created positions.

There is also growing concern about continued vacancy in high-wage, high-skilled positions where a skills gap is keeping many of those looking for work from filling these positions.

New in this report is the growing concern over affordable housing. While low-wage and part-time jobs continues to grow, new housing options are limited and those that are being developed are often either at the high or low end of the market. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland say this is the first time the issue has registered as a top concern.

Continued in-migration to central cities, like what is being experienced in Cincinnati, is exasperating this problem throughout the Fourth District. Of course, this in-migration is seen by many as a net positive, even though the housing market has yet to catch up.

“The remarkable resurgence happening in core neighborhoods will have a very positive effect on those neighborhoods, and on the City of Cincinnati overall,” explained a professor at the University of Cincinnati in response to this survey.

A social services organization CEO in Pittsburgh also sees increasing migration to urban centers positively, but worries about the possibility of rising property driving historic residents from their neighborhoods. The concern over affordable housing is, as the Cleveland Fed puts it, “respondents grappling with the good and bad elements of revitalization occurring in their urban centers.”

While less relevant in the Cincinnati region, the Fourth District’s shale gas boom has also caused affordable housing problems in parts of West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania, as oil workers move in and are able to pay more in rent than other, longer-term residents.

Although the economic recovery is in full swing and most cities are seeing migration to their urban centers, many neighborhoods are still suffering from blight and disinvestment. According to the survey, abandoned properties were the third most-cited concern among respondents. Many cities in the region, particularly those in northern Ohio, are still saddled with significant amounts of abandoned and vacant properties, many of which left over from the housing crisis.

These properties not only require tax revenue to maintain and produce no tax revenues in return, but they are also most typically found in low-income, minority neighborhoods, exasperating already-difficult economic conditions for many of these communities.

At the end of the survey, the Cleveland Fed attempted to gauge emerging issues, both positive and negative. The biggest negative issue cited by almost all respondents was how to deal with an aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced. Budget cuts at all levels of government have lead to increased deferral of basic maintenance and improvements, especially in older municipalities that dominate the Fourth District.

While on the positive side, most respondents cited the continued migration of residents to the inner-city as having the most potential to positively impact economic recovery throughout the region.

Respondents also specifically mentioned the activation of the National Housing Trust Fund, which will provide federal support to help areas construct, preserve, and rehabilitate buildings for affordable housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition predicts that Ohio and Pennsylvania will be some of the largest recipients of these funds, and thus have the most to gain or lose by its status.