Project Officials Ready to Move Forward With Next Phase of The Banks

Officials overseeing the development of The Banks have announced that they will soon proceed with the design and construction of the infrastructure needed for the next phase of the massive riverfront project.

Yesterday, at a special meeting of The Banks Steering Committee, the eight-member group unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with what they expect to be $29.3 million worth of work, which would then provide the platform for millions more in private investment in the form of offices, residences and retail on what is referred to as Lot 24.

As has been the case with all prior phases of the mixed-use development, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will build out the utilities and roadway network, and construct a 690-space, two-level parking garage that will lift the site out of the Ohio River floodplain. Carter and The Dawson Company – the private development team selected for the project – would consider what elements should be included and then proceed with building and leasing out whatever is built on top of the parking decks.

A guiding principle that has not changed since the beginning of the development process is that the underground parking garage will be reserved for public parking, leaving Carter-Dawson to develop additional above-ground parking to satisfy the City’s mandatory parking requirements.

The Steering Committee said that the public work will be funded through the issuance of $22 million in tax increment finance bonds, and $7 million from the State of Ohio. Project officials say issuance of the bonds is expected to come within the coming months.

While the Carter-Dawson team has not yet decided the exact mix for this third phase of work, it is widely expected to be primarily residential. In total, the zoning and infrastructure for the site will allow for around 320,000 to 400,000 square feet of developable space.

The timing of the announcement could not be better, with work rapidly progressing on General Electric’s 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, 19,000 square feet of retail space, and the 291 apartments at the phase two site to the immediate north; and with the announcement that AC Hotels will develop the long-sought hotel along Main Street in front of Great American Ball Park.

Phase two work is expected to be completed in phases throughout 2016, while AC Hotel by Marriott is expected to open in spring 2017.

While management with the Cincinnati Bengals expressed some concern over the loss of one of the team’s few remaining tailgating lots, The Banks itself is evolving into more of an entertainment district than many had thought.

In April, state officials approved a new open-container district law that will soon be in place at The Banks; and yesterday, in a separate move, the Cincinnati Reds applied for a zoning variance to allow for the installation of a video board that will overlook Freedom Way – providing live video programming when the surrounding streets are shut down to cars for special events. Such moves could render tailgating lots obsolete as fans move to the streets on game days.

Project officials say the phasing of construction at the 18-acre site has been carefully coordinated between the district’s various stakeholders, along with the construction schedule of Smale Riverfront Park. As park work has moved west so has work at The Banks, and with the latest work on the park taking place just south of phase three of The Banks, the timing makes perfect sense.

If all goes according to plan, this next phase of infrastructure work could begin as soon as January or February – just after the conclusion of the Bengals football season.

Cincinnati Posts Third Consecutive Year of Population Increases

The U.S. Census Bureau released new population estimates for municipalities across the United States last week. The data showed that while Ohio’s big cities continue to struggle, Cincinnati and Columbus stand as outliers by posting consistent population growth.

According to the estimate, the City of Cincinnati now has 298,165 residents, which represents an increase of 547 over the previous year. While the metropolitan region is Ohio’s largest, Cincinnati is just the state’s third largest city after Cleveland (389,521) and Columbus (835,957), which has nearly three times as much land area as both Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Further reducing Cincinnati’s numbers is the reality that nearly 70,000 people live in the river cities directly across from Downtown in Northern Kentucky. While they are counted toward the regional total, they do not show up in the city’s overall population.

For Cincinnati it marked the third consecutive year of population gains since the Census Bureau disappointed city officials with their 2010 decennial count, which is a much more robust effort based on actual counts than the annual estimates. This comes after a half-century of population decline that not only defined the Queen City, but most established cities throughout the United States – a fact that while easily noticed also had many root causes that are difficult to ascribe.

Since this newly released data is not the hard count, one is not able to decipher where the population gains and losses are occurring throughout the city, but recent reports have shown strong population growth in Downtown and Uptown – a trend that is expected to continue over the rest of the decade.

For years leading up to the 2010 decennial count, Cincinnati officials had been challenging population estimates that showed declining population numbers. Those declining numbers were held up in that count, but now appear to be on the side of city officials who believe trends are now in their favor.

The growth in both Cincinnati and Columbus follow their regional population growth trends, although the City of Columbus is adding population at a faster rate than its region, while the City of Cincinnati is slightly trailing its regional population growth trends. Quite the opposite is true in Cleveland, where both the city and region are losing people, and the city is doing so at a faster rate.

While Cleveland stands as lone big metropolitan region losing population in Ohio, Toledo looks to be faring even worse. Since 2010, the City of Toledo has been losing more than 1,500 residents each year, while shedding a total of 3,000 residents region-wide since the decennial count.

As UrbanCincy previously reported when updated regional estimates were released, if current trends continue Columbus will surpass Cleveland in 2017 and Cincinnati in 2024 to become the state’s largest metropolitan region.

With both Columbus and Cincinnati also leading the state in terms of their economic performance, it seems likely that their positions as population growth leaders will continue throughout the remainder of the decade.

Developer Seeking Support for Six-Unit Columbia Tusculum Townhome Project

The developer responsible for building “Cottage Hill” along Columbia Tusculum’s Strafer Street is now seeking the community’s approval for a six-unit townhome project.

On Monday, Gary Osterfeld presented to the community council what he called “very preliminary” sketches for the attached buildings at the bottom of Strafer Street – along Columbia Parkway – which would likely be around 1,900 square feet apiece and could be either apartments or for-sale homes.

The site is currently undeveloped and is used as a small community gardening space. If he pursues the project, Osterfeld will be seeking a zoning variance from its current zoning classification of community commercial-mixed to residential mixed, as it would have no commercial component.

“The commercial market in Columbia Tusculum is not real good, despite what people may think,” he said. “The problem is, relative to the number of people, there’s more retail than there is need for it. There’s already more retail than there is people; so in order for businesses to come in there and be enough demand and for the businesses to be profitable, we need more people.”

Osterfeld also told the community council that Al. Neyer’s Columbia Square, which is located directly across Columbia Parkway from his proposed building site, took five years to fill with tenants. He also said that he’s been trying to market his site for about the same amount of time but “hasn’t had a single serious call”.

The site is also challenging because of its steep slope and six-foot retaining wall, which Osterfeld said the City would likely want to keep in place.

“The idea of the zoning in place – what they would like to see – is they would like to see retail on the street level, so that people can walk in the shops like Hyde Park Square or Oakley Square – or like most squares – and the upstairs is residential,” he said. “The problem with that is you don’t see hills in Hyde Park, Mount Lookout, Oakley. The other neighborhoods you don’t see built on a hill like this. So the topography does not lend itself well to what the City’s insisting be there.”

The earliest the project could begin is this fall. Price points are expected to start in the mid-$300,000s, based upon what Osterfeld has seen of the local market.

“My guess is that it’s probably going to be a younger, more transient market,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of steps, the price point’s not going to be like [the Cottage Hill development on] Strafer. I think that Strafer started out in the upper 3’s [$300,000s] and ended up in the upper 6’s [$600,000s]. I don’t see that happening. But we’re designing it to try to accommodate anybody. We’re going to be as flexible in our design as we can.”

Osterfeld said he plans to keep the neighborhood notified as the proposal navigates the maze of design, variances and permits.

“The City would like to have neighborhood support and neighborhood cooperation, as would I,” he said. “Your interest is what’s good for the community. So, I’m trying to help with that.”

Neighborhoods Committee Supports Additional Dense, Walkable Development in Avondale

Avondale’s desire to capitalize on the upcoming $106 million MLK Interchange with more dense, walkable development took a big step forward on Monday with the approval of the rezoning of several properties by City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee.

If approved by the full City Council on Wednesday, the move would rezone approximately 16.76 acres along Reading Road from commercial community-auto to commercial community-pedestrian.

The properties were recommended for the creation of “a more structured street edge” in the September 2014 MLK/Reading Road Corridor Study, and were chosen by the Avondale Community Council, Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation, and Uptown Consortium.

“We really looked at the areas that they felt maybe were at the most risk for auto-oriented development,” said supervising city planner, Katherine Keough-Jurs. “Obviously they want to make this the gateway to their community, and they felt that these were the areas they really wanted to focus on.”

Under commercial community-pedestrian (CC-P) zoning, new construction must be built to the front lot line. Existing buildings can remain as they are, unless altered.

Uptown Consortium President and CEO Beth Robinson has stated that she expects the construction of at least 3 million square feet of real estate within five years of the interchange’s completion, which is scheduled for November 2016.

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.