PHOTOS: Take A Look Inside Cincinnati’s Deteriorating Union Terminal

Cincinnati’s Union Terminal is one of the few remaining gems of its kind. In addition to being a part of the golden era for passenger rail travel, the grand structure also pioneered the modern, long-distance travel building architecture for many of today’s airports.

Built the 1933, the impressive Art Deco structure was originally designed by Steward Wagner and Alfred Fellheimer as a passenger rail station. When it opened it even included a large terminal building that extended over the railroad tracks below.

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After train service was drastically reduced in 1971, the building began to languish. Shortly thereafter, freight railroad companies moved in to acquire some of the land and the terminal building was removed. Facing imminent demolition approximately one decade later, Hamilton County voters approved a bond levy to restore the structure.

When renovations were complete in 1990, some passenger rail operations were restored and what we know of today as the Museum Center moved in. However, not much has been done to maintain the building since that time and even those repairs that were done in the late 1980s were only some of what was needed. That means the building is once again in need of an overall in order to stay in use.

On Tuesday, November 4, Hamilton County voters will once again decide the fate of one of the region’s most prominent landmarks. They will go to the polls to decide whether they want to initiate a quarter-cent sales tax to provide up to $170 million for the $208 million project.

To get a better idea of the current conditions of Union Terminal, I took a behind the scenes tour of the facility two weeks ago. There is noticeable water damage throughout the building, some visible structural damage and outdated HVAC systems that are driving up maintenance costs for the behemoth structure.

Whether this particular region icon is saved once more by the voters of Hamilton County, or not, is something we will soon find out.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 11 photos were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy on Saturday, September 27.

New High-End Townhomes Add to Pendleton’s Ongoing Revitalization

A relatively small development called Pendleton Street Townhomes will bring 10 new single-family residences to the center city in two phases over the next two years.

One of the interesting components about the project is that it is blending in mostly new infill on vacant lots with a renovation of an existing historic structure that dates back to the 1870s. The work also comes at the same time as a flurry of other investments nearby that are poised to transform the historic neighborhood.

Often considered a sub-neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton is actually one of the smallest of the city’s 52 official neighborhoods. Its building stock and urban form are essentially identical to that of its more well-known neighbor to the west.

The neighborhood has long had a slightly unique sub-culture of its own, perhaps driven by the Pendleton Arts Center, which boasts the world’s largest collection of artists under one roof. While this claim may be more hyperbole than reality, the Pendleton Arts Center is located in an impressively large warehouse building that has more than 500 studios and 200 resident artists.

Over the past two decades the Pendleton Arts Center has served as an anchor for the neighborhood, and the new townhomes being developed are fittingly located in its proud shadow.

Developers broke ground in late August on what will be four newly constructed townhomes, and one renovated property. Each home, developers say, is approximately 3,100 square feet and ranges in price from $390,000 to $449,000.

The second phase will include five more newly constructed townhomes and is anticipated to break ground next fall. While it is still preliminary, developers expect those homes to be slightly smaller and to go for around $400,000.

Evidence of the area’s hot real estate market is the fact that developers sold five of the units before even breaking ground just over a month ago.

One of the key marketing points, and a policy point of pride for those promoting sustainable development practices, is that each of the properties will be LEED certified and thus qualify for the City of Cincinnati’s tax abatement program for such properties.

The townhomes within the first phase of work under construction are expected to be complete in spring 2015.

VIDEO: Breathing New Life Into the City’s Oldest Standing Firehouse

We have been writing more and more about Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills and Evanston lately. That has largely been because a lot has been happening there over the past couple of years; and it seems like that trend is only just getting started.

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that these three neighborhoods also fall loosely into the focus area for the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. While WHRF is a different organization in size and scope from 3CDC, it too is making an out-sized impact in this part of the city. One of the more current examples of this, in a bricks and mortar sense, is the redevelopment of the city’s oldest firehouse.

Located in Peeble’s Corner, the 134-year-old structure had sat vacant for the better part of four decades. The restoration created a new street-level restaurant space that is now occupied by Fireside Pizza, and an apartment on the upper-floor. It is also part of a larger redevelopment effort, being led by Kent Hardman, on a slew of surrounding buildings.

The restoration of this historic firehouse is particularly important to Kevin Wright, the executive director of WHRF, who says that it really is the first completed example that embodies the foundation’s goal of acquiring and restoring blighted properties.

In light of that, the WHRF worked with Andrew Stahlke, an occasional video contributor to UrbanCincy, to produce the following three-minute video on the history and process of bringing the building back to life.

PHOTOS: Washington D.C.’s Model Transportation Investments Paying Dividends

Washington D.C. has, perhaps, the nation’s most prosperous and booming urban economy. It is a city that has also become defined by its highly educated, young workforce.

Over the past decade or so, the nation’s capital has also been transforming its transport network in a way to make it more multi-modal and improve mobility.

One of the most striking things upon arriving in Washington D.C. is the sheer number of bike lanes. And not just bike lanes, but protected bike lanes. As many cities have begun noticing in recent years, striped bike lanes next to moving traffic are not enough, and that protected bike lanes that separate cyclists from moving traffic with bollards or on-street parking are far superior.

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As a result, you see many of the newer bike lanes in Washington D.C. receiving this treatment, and many of the older lanes being transitioned over, as possible, to protected facilities. To this end, it should come as no surprise that the city has one of the nation’s highest percentages of people commuting by bike.

In addition to that, Washington D.C. launched North America’s first bikeshare system in 2008 when SmartBike DC opened with 120 bikes at 10 stations. After some initial struggles, a new system called Capital Bikeshare was launched in September 2010 and currently boasts more than 2,500 bikes at more than 300 stations.

This new system extends beyond the District of Columbia into three additional nearby jurisdictions and stands as one of three biggest bikeshare systems in the United States along with New York City’s CitiBike and Chicago’s Divvy.

I used Capital Bikeshare to make an approximate two-mile trip from near the U Street Metro Station to Washington Union Station. The journey was a breeze and preferable, to me at least, to using a taxi or the city’s well-functioning transit system.

Upon arriving at Union Station I met a friend to check out one of Washington D.C.’s other marque transportation projects at this time. The H Street/Benning Road modern streetcar line terminates here and extends approximately 2.4 miles to the east, and is part of a larger 37-mile streetcar network that will include five lines in total.

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The $137 million starter line is in the final stages of construction, with train vehicles and their drivers currently being tested and trained along its route. Project officials expect it to open to riders in early 2015.

Walking the route was not all that pleasant thanks to the hot temperatures and only brief areas of shade along the busy street, which serves a bevy of transit operations including Megabus, Greyhound and Bolt intercity buses, articulated city buses and now the streetcar. Fortunately a mid-afternoon stop at a local Mexican eatery, with plenty of guacamole to go around, made the overheated outing more tolerable.

While H Street is a largely a hit-or-miss commercial corridor, its immediately surrounding residential streets are expectedly charming and offer a good foundation from which to build. Some development has already begun to spring up along the line, including a slew of residential projects and a 41,000-square-foot grocery store. There are also signs of renewed interest in many existing buildings that have new restaurants and shops opening up within them.

Of course not everything that is happening in Washington D.C. is related to infrastructure or transportation enhancements. There is, overall, just an extraordinary amount of new construction taking place and a far-reaching sense of vitality. One cannot help but think that there is at least some connection between these policy decisions and investments, and vibrancy on the ground.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 39 photos were taken by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy between Wednesday, September 3 and Friday, September 5.

Dive Into the Topic of Tiny Living Spaces This Friday at the Niehoff Urban Studio

Tiny Houses Event FlyerTo most people, tiny homes often are viewed as a novelty. The idea of building a small house or living in an apartment with less than 500 square feet sounds like living in a closet.

However; with the rising cost of housing and the growing desire for people to do more outside their homes, the idea of tiny living is stirring a new conversation. Tiny homes, for example, could be used to address urban revitalization, homelessness or retrofitting existing structures, such as this garage project in Atlanta.

This is why UrbanCincy has partnered with the Niehoff Urban Studio to host Tiny Living as part of Digressions in Art, Architecture and Urban Design. The event, which will take place this Friday, will feature presentations on the subject of tiny homes and an expert discussion panel.

Writing about the event, organizer Ana Gisele Ozaki postulated that tiny homes are “an antithesis of suburbanization and the ‘American Dream’ as we know it, tiny spaces/living fundamentally question consumption of our current system by proposing repurpose of materials, as a clear response to the 2009 housing crisis and many other flaws of our current economic/financial system.”

This event is part of the continuing partnership between the Niehoff Urban Studio and UrbanCincy to examine complex urban issues. Earlier this year UrbanCincy moderated the panel discussion for the Metropolis & Mobility workshop focused on Cincinnati’s Wasson Way Corridor.

The Tiny Living event is free and open to the public, and will run from 5pm to 8pm. The evening will begin with interactive pieces produced by the DPMT7 and ParProjects, and will be followed by a series of short presentations at 6pm to get the discussion started. The panel discussion will begin around 7:30pm.

The Niehoff Urban Studio can be reached via Metro*Plus and the #24, #78 Metro bus lines. The collaborative, public studio is also within one block of a Cincy Red Bike station.

EDITORIAL NOTE: UrbanCincy‘s local area manager, John Yung, will be one of the panelists at this event. John is also a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Master of Community Planning program.