Hamilton Looking At Possibility of Developing Urban Trail on City’s West Side

The City of Hamilton is looking at the possibility of acquiring approximately 36.5 acres of land from CSX Corporation following its filing for abandonment of the former freight railroad. If city officials ultimately decide to proceed with the purchase, the plan will be to turn it into an urban bike and pedestrian trail on Hamilton’s inner west side.

Running from CSX’s main line in Millville to the former Champion Paper Mill, which is in the process of being redeveloped into a youth sports and entertainment complex, the property also includes a former railyard near the Great Miami River at Two Mile Creek.

Hamilton’s west side neighborhoods currently lack any protected bike lanes or off-street bike paths. As a result, the possibility of adding such an amenity has community leaders excited.

“The proposed Beltline trail will be of great value to our community,” said Hamilton Councilman Rob Wile. “By connecting these neighborhoods to our existing trail infrastructure we open up a number of convenient outdoor recreational opportunities to our residents.”

Earlier in the year city officials hosted public hearings to gather feedback on the concept, and are continuing to gather feedback through an online survey. The results, they say, will help determine whether they should ultimately pursue the project.

“The survey lets the City know what kind of benefits residents see in the trail, how often they may use it, what potential negative aspects or problems may occur with it; and is being used to see what generally the public thinks about the potential trail,” Nicholas Garuckas, City Management Fellow inside Hamilton’s Office of the City Manager, explained to UrbanCincy.

“The [survey] results are carefully being looked at and considered in helping determine whether or not the City should be moving forward with this project or not.

In the meantime, Garuckas says that City Hall is moving forward with an appraisal of the land’s value, along with assessing the possibility of various grants from agencies like the Ohio Public Works Clean Conservation Fund, Rails to Trails Conservancy, Dopplet Family Fund, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Clean Ohio Trail Fund, and Recreational Train Fund.

The project follows a pattern of other more marque urban trail projects around the country that are transforming former industrial rail corridors into park and recreation space for under-served urban communities.

Last June, Chicago celebrated the opening of its 2.7-mile trail called The 606. Atlanta, meanwhile, has been opening segments of its much larger 33-mile BeltLine project in phases over recent years. Nearby, in Cincinnati, city officials are poised to acquire an abandoned 7.6-mile freight rail line in its eastern neighborhoods for what is being called the Wasson Way project.

While smaller in scope, the approximately 2.7-mile Hamilton Beltline has, at least initially, has gained the support of Hamilton City Council, and is rooted in the city’s planning documents. In fact, city officials explain that the idea for the project came out of discussions about what to do with the Champion Paper Mill complex and surrounding areas.

“This project is part of the bike path master plan and it will be an asset to all those who enjoy the outdoors including walkers and joggers,” Wile concluded.

If Hamilton is successful in acquiring the land, it would add significant recreational facilities and new transportation options to the city’s west side. If abandonment proceedings continue without Hamilton moving to purchase the property, it will instead be sold off in piecemeal fashion to private owners.

With Opening of St. Lawrence Square, East Price Hill Welcomes New Gathering Space

Yesterday the City of Cincinnati, Price Hill Will and members of the East Price Hill community gathered to celebrate the grand opening of St. Lawrence Square.

Located at the corner of St. Lawrence Avenue and Warsaw Avenue, the opening of the new public park marks the culmination of a years-long effort to develop a community gathering place in the historic west side neighborhood.

“While the space is small, we know it will become a center of events for the community ranging from concerts to theatre performances, and even Christmas tree lightings,” Price Hill Will Executive Director, Ken Smith, explained to UrbanCincy. “The project is a great example of what can happen when you involve residents to help improve their neighborhood.”

Assisted by Jeff Raser at Glaserworks, who has otherwise been well-known throughout the city for his work on developing form-based codes, members of the East Price Hill community came up with the idea for establishing a public gathering place, and subsequently developing the final product which includes a small lawn, performance stage, paver-covered walkways, and a water feature honoring the five branches of the military.

“Projects that turn underutilized spaces into public gathering places through a process that engages the community is true placemaking,” Oscar Bedolla, Director of the Cincinnati’s Department of Community & Economic Development, said at the grand opening. “Price Hill Will and everyone involved in revitalizing East Price Hill’s business district have a lot of momentum right now.”

The project was made possible through an unfortunate situation of a fire bringing down a historic structure. Following that, Price Hill Will acquired the property and received $261,595 in CDBG grant funds, along some grant money from PNC Bank and $20,000 of its own money to make it all happen.

Following the grand opening ceremony, community leaders are not wasting any time programming and activating the space. A kickoff party will take place this Sunday at St. Lawrence Square from 4pm to 6:30pm. Event organizers say there will be live music, food and other activities to welcome the community to their new gathering space.

St. Lawrence Square is located in the heart of East Price Hill. It is easily accessible from numerous bus routes; and free bike parking is also readily available in the immediate surrounding.

Pendleton Apartment Development Becomes City’s First “Bicycle Friendly” Residential Destination

One of Pendleton’s newest multi-family residential developments has not only saved a historic structure from the wrecking ball, but it has also become one of the city’s most bicycle friendly destinations in the process.

Cincinnati-based BiLT Architects designed, developed and rehabbed the 1870s tenement building to fit what they called a modern urban lifestyle. They were able to do this by retaining original architectural details, while also responding to new trends in Cincinnati’s rapidly growing bicycling community.

Located at 512 E. Twelfth Street in Pendleton, the seven-unit development offers an unparalleled amount of amenities for bicyclists looking to take advantage of the building’s central location.

On-site, the property has dedicated bike lockers and a fully outfitted bicycle workstation with bicycle stand, pump, and repair tools. Tenants can also purchase 50% discounted memberships to Cincy Red Bike, connecting them to a network that has grown to 385 bikes at 50 stations throughout Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

These efforts have earned Abigail Apartments the distinction of being the first apartment building in the city to be named an official “Bicycle Friendly Destination” by local advocacy organization Queen City Bike, of which Abigail Apartments is also a member.

The project does not have dedicated on-street parking, but this has not been an issue for prospective tenants. For example, the developers say, some people with employer-provided parking downtown have said they might leave their car parked at work and instead walk and bike for their other trips.

BiLT Architects’ Andre Bilokur said that he and his partner, Patricia Bittner, designed the project with people like their daughter in mind – renters who work in the center city want to live a car-free or “car-lite” lifestyle near all of the action, without sacrificing affordability or good design. More broadly, they expect the project to appeal to people on either side of having a family – young professionals and “never nesters”, or empty nesters, much like Andre and Patricia themselves, who also live and work in Over-the-Rhine.

BiLT purchased the property in late 2014 from OTR A.D.O.P.T., and, thanks to a tax abatement from the City of Cincinnati and an Ohio Historic Tax Credit, they were able to restore the structure and preserve many features of the original tenements, including refinished hardwood floors, restored windows, room layouts, and even privy closets. Accent patches on the walls also cleverly reveal old layers of plaster from former occupants.

The apartments began pre-leasing in April and will welcome the first residents in the coming weeks. Rents range from $840 to $880, or $1.50 to $1.60 per square foot.

This is BiLT Architects’ second adaptive reuse project in the area, following a townhouse project they designed and developed 1431-1435 Elm Street.

Andre and Patricia say more such projects are in the pipeline, including a set of commercial properties currently under construction near the townhomes on Elm Street. They say that these are expected to come on line by the end of the summer. A future phase at 1437 Elm Street will add a new construction, single-family home between the townhomes and commercial properties.

Kansas City Celebrating Grand Opening of Midwest’s First Modern Streetcar System

Cincinnati is scheduled to open up its modern streetcar system on September 15, but Kansas City is opening up a system with similar specs today. In fact, they will celebrate the occasion with two days of events aimed at introducing people to the new system.

At 2.2 miles in length, Kansas City has a smaller initial route than Cincinnati’s 3.6-mile system. City leaders there, however, have decided to make the system free to use; and have even made their bus system free during this initial celebration period. In Cincinnati, riders will need to pay $1.00 to ride the streetcar, but there is an ongoing debate about whether there will be an initial period where it will be free.

A video posted by UrbanCincy (@urbancincy) on

The opening of Kansas City’s system is particularly interesting due to the fact that the same streetcar vehicles are being used as the ones in Cincinnati. The City of Fountains has also been experiencing a similar explosion of investment on and around its initial $102 million streetcar segment.

“This is my first time visiting Kansas City, and it’s cool to see how much it’s like Cincinnati,” said Derek Bauman, Southwest Ohio director of All Aboard Ohio. “It’s a mid-sized, Midwestern river town; and everything that I’m seeing here coincides with what we’re seeing in Cincinnati – cranes, economic development, new hotels, new condos, new apartments and people moving back into the city.”

Bauman arrived in Kansas City yesterday and will be reporting live for UrbanCincy on our Facebook and Instagram channels over the next few days. He has already posted a number of videos and live reports from Kansas City showing the massive development taking place there, along with the design of their system.

With robust political support in Kansas City, their streetcar has already seen several major sponsors come on board including Sprint, which is the main sponsor and is also providing free wifi on the system, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City. Aside from verbal statements, Cincinnati’s corporate community has yet to step up and financially support the system in the same way.

Now that it is open to the public, Kansas City’s streetcar will operate from 6am to 12am Monday through Thursday, 6am to 2am on Fridays, 7am to 2am on Saturdays, and 7am to 10pm on Sundays. It will have 10 minute headways during peak weekday periods, and 12 to 18 minute headways all other times. Transportation officials in Kansas City estimate that the system will serve 2,700 riders per day.

“Like in Cincinnati, there is this buzz of people wanting to be in downtown, and live in walkable neighborhoods,” Bauman explained. “We’ve been talking about this for years, but now we’re seeing it come to fruition in both cities.”

You can follow Bauman’s reporting throughout today and tomorrow on Twitter @DerekBauman, live video streaming at Facebook.com/UrbanCincy, and through his photos at Instagram.com/UrbanCincy.

Madisonville To Celebrate Completion of Historic Bank Building Renovation

Madisonville neighborhood leaders believe that strategic investments over the past few years are finally starting to bear fruit, as is evidenced by the restoration of the historic Fifth Third Bank Building at the corner of Madison Road and Whetsel Avenue.

The $644,000 project was led by the Madisonville Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (MCURC), and includes a street-level restaurant space with two, two-bedroom apartments on the building’s second floor. The hope is that the project will help stimulate other private reinvestment in the neighborhood.

Built in 1927, the building used to be a bank and still has the vault inside to prove it. Today the 2,800-square-foot street-level “white box” restaurant space is now being marketed to potential tenants. Those interested in the space are asked to contact Matt Strauss, Real Estate and Marketing Manager at MCURC, at 513-271-2495.

Community leaders will gather for a ribbon cutting ceremony next week to celebrate bringing the historic structure back to life.

“MCURC was asked by the community to save this signature building in the heart of the business district,” said Sara Sheets, Executive Director of MCURC. “Our hope is to attract a unique restaurant tenant bringing newcomers to the neighborhood, while offering residents a chance to have a date night in their own neighborhood.”

The Bank Building’s future restaurant tenant will join a growing roster of new dining options nearby.

Lala’s Blissful Bites, a bakery, opened down the street in January; plans for two coffee shops, Mad Llama Coffee by Lookout Joe and CooKoo’s Coffee Shoppe, are in the works; and a commissary retail store from the owner of Mazunte Taqueria is coming soon.

Due to what community leaders attribute to decades of disinvestment and targeted demolition, the Bank Building is one of the few historic buildings still standing in the business district. Many of the surrounding properties are vacant lots, but that too may soon be changing.

Since 2008, the City of Cincinnati has been buying vacant parcels in the area in order to assemble a large site suitable for development. In 2014, the City issued an RFQ to developers on the 7.5 acres of property it had acquired to date, which comprises most of the four blocks that form the intersection of Madison and Whetsel.

City leaders say that the team selected to redevelop these properties will be formally announced in the coming weeks, but early indications point to the Ackermann Group as the leading candidate.

This is all coming at the same time as the $200 million development at Medpace’s campus at Madison Road and Red Bank Expressway, a half-mile west of the neighborhood business district, which includes 250 apartments, 100,000 square feet of commercial space, 250,000 square feet of office space, and a 239-room Dolce Hotel, which is expected to be completed in 2018.

The ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at the Bank Building at 5900 Madison Road at 11am on Thursday, April 28. The Ohio Community Development Finance Fund, Fifth Third Bank, the James A. Schroth Family Charitable Trust, PNC Bank, LISC of Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky, Duke Energy Urban Revitalization Initiative, and the City of Cincinnati provided funding for the project.