Opinion: Could Library Building Be Option for Public Radio Move?

If public libraries never existed in the United States their concept would baffle most people if proposed today: a 100% free and public space where tax dollars purchase and provide books, magazines, music, videos, technology, and other community services at zero cost to the individual. The public library has been a grand achievement in providing access to knowledge and services in this country, and the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County is no exception.

Our local library system is the 3rd largest publicly run library in the country, and the 15th largest when including university library systems. It is also the largest public library run at the county level with Boston and New York running city level systems. For perspective, Hamilton County’s library holdings are 52% larger than Chicago’s and more than double that of Cleveland, Seattle, Miami, and the state of Hawaii’s systems.

Like most public libraries, Hamilton County’s has undergone dramatic changes in services offered in the past decades due to the explosion in digital media and internet resources. While libraries still contain substantial physical holdings, most new resources are digital and require less space.

The Main Library branch in downtown Cincinnati was expanded in the 1990’s with the construction of the North Building, as the South Building was too full to hold new books and physical materials. According to the Public Library Board, the changes experienced by libraries over the past decades have rendered the North Building’s space unnecessary for current usage. Their reports suggest that the South Building could accommodate what the North Building houses today.

In 2016 and early 2017, the Board considered selling the building and underlying land to reduce its footprint and provide funds for branch renovations countywide. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, better known as 3CDC, had been involved in advising potential futures for the building and the site. Protests followed this news, and the outcry pushed the Board to retain the property while finding new uses for the building.

This keeps the land public, alleviating concerns of those fearing a privatization of public assets in an era of dwindling public resources. To fund branch renovations the Board instead placed a 1-mill tax levy on the May 2018 ballot, which passed 63%-37%.

So what to do with the North Building? Aside from demolition the building, its redevelopment potential is restricted due to the high ceilings and massive floorplates which were necessary to hold the weight of hundreds of thousands of books.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati Public Radio (CPR), the license holder of WVXU, WMUB, and WGUC is looking to move. CPR’s current space in the CET Building and garage at 1223 Central Pkwy behind Music Hall has been rumored to be redeveloped in the near future, due to its proximity to the future FCC Stadium and the deteriorating condition of its public parking garage.

CPR has proposed siting its new facility near city hall, at 9th and Plum, a block that Indianapolis developer Milhaus has expressed interest in constructing apartments on since 2016.

Why fight over one parking lot when there are plenty of other options to pursue?

There is one option that would give CPR a new space and potentially satisfy the repositioning of the Library’s North Building: Move CPR to the North Building.

CPR needs large spaces for their studios and equipment, as well as office space. While they may not entirely fill the North Building, they could anchor a new era in the life of this critical public space in the region’s core. Ideas for the remaining space could include a museum on public radio and public libraries which could accompany CPR, as well as other public uses. There could be a news ticker that wraps around the building fronting on Vine and 9th Streets, giving updates to downtown residents, workers, and visitors.

As UrbanCincy previously explored, this area of downtown can be a reactivated with more residential housing. More residents help drive the vibrancy of the core and will help activate retail storefronts already in the area. Despite having city departments, Pure Romance, and other office users, retail activation still lags in this part of the neighborhood that has seen generations of demolition for parking.

A move to the North Building for CPR could potentially reactivate 9th street, be close the Cincinnati Streetcar and keep the space public. Likewise, continued residential development in the northwest quadrant of downtown will strengthen and reconnect that area of downtown to Over-the-Rhine and the new FC Cincinnati Stadium. Seems like this could be a win-win for everyone.

Awards Ceremony Set For Infill Designs in Over-the-Rhine

The Over-the-Rhine Foundation is hosting a design competition to test a proposed set of new infill guidelines for the Over-the-Rhine community. The OTR Design Competition Awards Ceremony and Celebration will take place on Friday, March 23rd from 5-8 PM. The event will announce the winner of a competition designed to evaluate proposed guidelines for new development in the revitalizing neighborhood.

Since 2014, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation’s Infill Committee has focused on advocating for contextually appropriate infill design to complement the neighborhood’s rich historic fabric. As part of this effort, the committee has worked to revise the outdated new construction guidelines for the Over-the-Rhine Historic District. The Foundation is currently hosting the OTR Design Competition to challenge the design community to elevate new construction in the district while testing the proposed guidelines. Twelve local and national architects and designers work to design a hypothetical new construction project in the Northern Liberties portion of OTR at 1716-18 Vine Street, north of Liberty Street.

The Design Competition will showcase ideas for this site on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. (Photo by Travis Estell)

The intent of the competition is to present designs that will elevate the standard for new construction in the neighborhood and city. Foundation members hope that the design guidelines would inspire other cities to look to Cincinnati when it comes to inspiring contemporary architecture in a historic setting.

Board President Kevin Pape stated in a media release that, “We are thrilled to see the final design submissions for the competition. This is an exciting opportunity for us to showcase the influence of excellent urban design on new construction in our historic neighborhood.”

Partners in the development of the revised guidelines include the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, City of Cincinnati Office of the Urban Conservator, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, and Ohio History Connection.

Sponsors of the competition include the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, Cincinnati Preservation Association, 3CDC and the Niehoff Urban Studio.

The competition awards ceremony will take place at Union Hall’s 200-seat Beer Hall at 1311 Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine on Friday, March 23rd from 5:00PM-8: 00 PM. The presentation will begin at 6:00 pm. The ceremony is open to the public but RSVP‘s via Eventbrite is appreciated by Monday, March 19th. Complimentary beer and light snacks will be served with a suggested donation of $5.00. Donations can be made by paying to the order of ‘@OTRFoundation’ on Venmo or by cash or card at the event. 

The event is conveniently located along the Metro bus routes #46 and #78. It is a block away from the Northbound 12th and Vine and Southbound Race and Washington Park Cincinnati Bell Connector Streetcar stops. It is also located within a block from two Cincy RedBike bike share stations.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.

Design Competition to Test Neighborhood Infill Guide

Development in the city of Cincinnati and particularly in the basin can sometimes be heavily scrutinized. However, a new effort and design competition hosted by the Over-the-Rhine Foundation may prove to steer development of new construction projects.

Currently, the development process is complicated, often times involving many meetings with community councils, city staff and approvals and recommendations from certain boards and City Council.

That particular challenge has been felt most intensely in Over-the-Rhine, where developers, community leaders, and city officials are struggling to reach compromise over historic guidelines that have not been updated since 2003. For the past few years the OTR Foundation’s Infill Committee, established in 2013, has been working to address the challenges of infill design in this historic neighborhood. They are working with the city’s Historic Conservation Office to modernize the 15-year-old historic district guidelines. The goal of the update is to provide clear and comprehensive guideline language paired with illustrative graphics to assist in designing new construction that will enhance the long-term coherence of Over-the-Rhine and its desirability to both residents and visitors.

Part of that update is to test the new guidelines amongst the architectural and urban design community hosted by the Over-the-Rhine Foundation in conjunction with the proposed update to the New Construction Guidelines for the Over-the-Rhine Historic District.

The competition is open to the public. Participants are tasked with designing a new construction project, site, and exterior envelope only, at 1716-18 Vine Street following the proposed new construction guidelines, see the brief here.  Interested parties can pre-register by 1/20/18 at the following link. There is a registration fee of $15.00.

First, second, and third place cash prizes will be awarded and announced on March 23, 2018. The first place prize is $5,000.00. The competition team will host a kick-off question and answer event on Friday, January 26 at Graydon on Main, 1421 Main Street in OTR, from 5:00 to 7:00 PM.

Two public input sessions will be hosted to gather public input for the proposed guidelines by the Historic Conservation Office on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, at 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM. A location in OTR has yet to be determined.

Editors Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.

Venture Aims to Bring Passive Houses to Cincinnati

Recently UrbanCincy contributor Timothy Broderick sat down with Ronald Vieira, founder of PassivHaus — a venture designed to shake up the region’s building industry by dramatically reducing buildings’ energy expenditures to discuss building Passive Houses in the Cincinnati region. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Who are you?

My name is Ronald Vieira. Graduated from Xavier class of 2016. Born and raised in Valencia, Venezuela, but Cincinnati is my hometown. I like that I come from here.

What’s your job?

I am doing research to figure out how to decrease the extra payment people have to pay to build a passive house (PH). And that research consists in building the first PH in Cincinnati. There are a few PHs in construction in Cincinnati currently, but none of them have been certified yet.

What’s a passive house?

A PH is a building standard, a series of building standards that, if followed properly, you will reduce up to 90% of your heating load of your house, building, whatever your facility is. Overall it reduces up to 75% of your overall energy consumption.

How does it achieve such efficiency?

The main principle is super insulation — or as they call it, continuous insulation — because the idea is to isolate as well as we can the inside temperature of the house from the outside environment. Whether the outside is hot or cold or mild or humid or not it’s just to preserve the indoor environment to the best of the indoor’s ability.

So you’re basically creating a very stabilized climate?

Mhmm. A good analogy is your skin, which are your “walls.” To stay warm when you go outdoors, you put a jacket on. Similarly, when you’re building a house, the plywood is the skeleton of the house and then you build another exterior wall and put a lot of isolating material, like foam, and then that’s your newer, thicker wall.

Then you look where house is more prone to exchange air with the outside, which is windows and doors. You have to have really high-efficiency building doors and windows. Twenty years ago, new houses had single pane windows. Now the standard is double paned windows, and for PHs the standard is triple-paned windows.

How do you keep the air from getting stale/moldy?

Since you basically don’t have any communication from inside air to outside air, the filtration system for a passive house is a little different. This is an add-on equipment that you put on top of your furnace which cleans the air and filters it way more than a standard house. A high-quality filter is super important to a PH because it is airtight and needs better quality air while still using a lot less energy.

The way you put it it sounds like this cool thing that everyone should be doing, but it can’t be that simple. What are the biggest barriers to wider implementation?

Let’s start with the cost, which is the easiest to explain. You need more material — two walls + filler, for example. Another cost driver is the talent to design these buildings. There were only a handful of certified PH buildings in the US in 2009. The materials and the talent sums up to a 10 to 20% more cost. Now, this is all weather sensitive. The larger the building is, and the colder the climate is, the less expensive it’s going to be. It’s easier to keep it cool in the summer. When I did market research in Cincinnati, I found that we won’t need to go over the 10% premium. This is the promise of my company in the first three years. Then, we are going to figure out how to build these houses at 0% extra at the end of the third year.

The second barrier is the learning curve. These houses use new material and new ideas that most builders and architects don’t know. However, if you have the same group of people who are building the first house and then the second house and the third, they will quickly learn the process. That’s what I’m going to do.

You, yourself, are still learning how to build a PH. How will you build the first one?

You just need a PH consultant, which is not hard to get. Paul Yankee is my mentor on PH design, and he is the owner and CFO of Green Buildings Consultants. He has been advising since Day 1.

Are you going to get certified?

Yes, not as a designer but as a builder. But my architects will be certified.

What’s your motivation behind this work?

Typically, I think a little bit more in the bigger picture than the smaller picture. When I graduated college, I wanted to do something that will significantly impact the life of people in the world. That’s where everything starts.

Why climate change and not global poverty or something like that?

I think it was the education I received. Venezuela is a developing country, so my mom’s side is very poor. All my life I had very personal contact with extreme poverty. I felt like I was more qualified to tackle a systemic, non-social challenge than a social challenge. Plus, climate change is science, and my first three years at Xavier were chemistry.

So climate change, turns out the largest emitter [in the United States] is residential living. Why aren’t people doing anything about this? That’s when the research starts: how do I get people to generate energy in a greener way, or how do I get these people to use their energy in more wisely.

This has to do with energy efficiency and energy generation. Energy generation is far more complex, and my technical ability is not there at all. But my ability to find out how to build buildings in a way that keeps energy and consumes a lot less energy — ok, now I can do that. Doing research on home energy efficiency is how I stumbled upon PHs.

Is this only for rich suburbanites? Can you build something in the city?

No. I’m currently looking at a lot close to downtown. Furthermore, anything and everything can be built passive. You can use any particular architecture style whether it is contemporary, whether it is a bungalow, whether it is classical, or civil war era. You can have any type of architecture built to PH principles.

Now what you’re getting at, renovating houses like in Over-the-Rhine, that’s the next big challenge for PH builders. It is possible, but it is just another design challenge because you have to deal with existing structures. For historic buildings, specifically those in OTR, those are going to have more aesthetic and cost challenges.

What’s your short-term goals?

The official mission is to accelerate the adaptation process of PH principles to home residential construction. And then we’ll send segue into commercial, and that means mixed, urban living. I have a particular affinity for urban spaces. I am from the most inner city you can ever be in Valencia. So that’s all I know, basically.

Endgame?

Getting a large organization — like 3CDC — in charge of redeveloping a lot of buildings, getting in with them — that’s the goal. But all my energy right now is focused on building that first house. Nothing more. Who knows from there.

If you’re interested in building your own passive house, visit Ronald’s website or shoot him an email at vieirarxu@gmail.com.

New Race Street Project Seeks Exceptions, Draws Criticism

Steiner + Associates, a Columbus, OH based development company, has submitted plans through Platte Architecture + Design to the City’s Historic Conservation Board (HCB) to build a six-story mixed-use infill project along Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine (OTR). The proposal has drawn criticism and support from neighbors and the local Over-the-Rhine Foundation Infill Committee, an independent committee which reviews new construction in the neighborhood on a volunteer basis. A hearing on the project is scheduled for Monday, April 10.

The proposal for new construction would demolish two single-story garages at 1216-1218 Race Street and replace them with a 20-unit apartment building with approximately 3,300 square feet of ground level retail. Along Race Street the building will be five stories, and along the rear alley it will be six.

The developer is seeking three variances relating to buildable density, parking requirements and retail frontage. The variance for density would double the allowable number of units allowed on the site by its current zoning. The property is located along the Cincinnati Bell Connector route and qualifies for a 50% reduction in parking, the applicant is asking for relief from the remainder.

City staff recommends denial.

Included in information presented in the HCB packet are numerous letters of support for the project coming primarily from other residents and members of the city’s architectural community praising the design for its modern, 21st century design.

In one letter OTR residents Marcia Banker and Jeffrey Schloemer expressed their frustration with the Board, “We continue to be at a loss why well-designed projects that look as though they were created and built in the 21st century receive push back while new construction that is little more than not a good copy of 19th century design that is more fit for Main Street USA at DisneyWorld encounter little resistance.”

The OTR Foundation Infill Committee reviewed the project and found it to meet only one of eleven evaluation criteria for conformance to its infill guidelines. In her review of the application, City Historic Conservator Beth Johnson found that the project only met two of the OTR Historic Guidelines on infill projects.

“At this time staff does not feel that enough support or evidence has been provided to staff to justify that there is a hardship of any nature, to allow for a doubling in the density allowances, to not have the applicant attempt to provide any of the required parking, as well as justifying the extensive amount of building recess on the ground floor of the building,” Johnson stated in her report.

There is no question that demand for development in OTR is accelerating the scale and impacts on the historic urban city neighborhood. But should zoning and historic guidance rules be ignored for the sake of development? And if not, is it time to perhaps reevaluate these rules in light of the evolving development patterns and changing conditions in the neighborhood?

The Historic Conservation Board hearing on this project is at 3pm on Monday April 10 at the 5th Floor Conference Room of II Centennial located on 805 Central Ave.

Update: The hearing for this project has been moved to April 24th as reported by the Cincinnati Business Courier.

Editors Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.