Why Does Kroger Continue to Avoid Urban Store Model in Cincinnati?

Kroger is one of the Queen City’s prized Fortune 500 gems. The company was founded here in 1883 and has grown into the nation’s largest grocer, and one of the nation’s largest retailers overall. While the company has done much good for the city, the question is now being asked if they are now content with their hometown market.

While public officials work to rid the city of its food deserts, Kroger has been largely absent from the conversation. Furthermore, the grocer’s remaining stores throughout the city are seemingly in a constant state of fear of closure. Cincinnati still has Kroger stores in about a half-dozen neighborhoods, but many have either fallen into disrepair or are showcases of urban design failures.

In 2008, Kroger rebuilt its East Price Hill store to the pleasure of city and neighborhood leaders. The possibility of losing the neighborhood’s only full-service grocery store was a real concern. While shiny and new, the rebuilt store now sits more than 100 feet off of Warsaw Avenue, with a sea of parking and a Kroger Fueling Station in front.

Mt. Washington had their neighborhood Kroger built in 1999. In this case, the parking for the store is off to the side of the building, and it sits right along Beechmont Avenue. However, the building includes virtually no windows, and instead of serving as an anchor for the business district is more of an eyesore. While its site plan differs from Kroger’s East Price Hill store, both are still oriented to cars, not the pedestrians or cyclists that make the respective neighborhood business districts attractive.

As UrbanCincy reported yesterday, Kroger is now working with transit officials to improve bus facilities in and around their Walnut Hills store in Peeble’s Corner. But aside from that, the store is essentially defined by the same story as its Mt. Washington counterpart.

In Corryville a different story is unfolding. First developed in the 1960s as part of what is now seen as an awful urban renewal project, Kroger’s uptown store is one of its worst. Fortunately the store will soon be torn down, but after years of discussions with neighborhood leaders and developers, it sounds as if the new store will be not much different from the existing one in terms of its form or function.

Kroger stores in Winton Place and Westwood, and the one currently under construction in Oakley, are nothing more than urban design atrocities ignorant of their surroundings.

Of course, all of this goes without discussing the poor state of Kroger’s Over-the-Rhine store, which practically sits in the shadow of the company’s global headquarters, or the fact that Kroger has yet to actively pursue a store for the city’s exploding residential population downtown.

Meanwhile, approximately 80 miles south along I-75, Kroger has worked with community leaders in Lexington on a new store near the University of Kentucky. The newly opened 86,000-square-foot store is two stories tall with parking situated on the building’s rooftop. The structure is built to the street, includes facades with windows, café seating both inside and out, local food offerings, and has been designed with the surrounding community in mind.

In short, Lexington’s brand new Kroger shines as an example for what the Cincinnati-based company could and should build in its hometown.

Cincinnati is fortunate to have Kroger headquartered here; and the half-dozen or so neighborhoods that have a store are surely thankful to not be left stranded, but at some point Cincinnati should demand better from its hometown company. It is not too late for Kroger to get it right in Corryville, Walnut Hills, Over-the-Rhine, Downtown, or any of the city’s existing neighborhoods without any access to a full-service grocer.

Lower Price Hill’s MetroWest Site Looking for Someone to Follow

Buildings ablaze 10 years ago, now long gone. The former Queen City Barrel Company site is mostly empty, but not devoid of potential.

As you travel 1.5 miles from downtown along the Eighth Street Viaduct, you pass over the 18 acres of vacant land that welcomes you to Lower Price Hill. While new construction happening elsewhere in the city is constrained by existing buildings and streets, MetroWest Commerce Park is a blank slate 4.5 times the size of a typical city block, and almost as close to downtown as Findlay Market is to Fountain Square.

Though no tenants or buyers have agreed to terms on the City-owned property, Al Neyer Inc., Resurgence Group, and Colliers International are working to market the site. Highly contaminated from previous industrial uses, redevelopment of MetroWest has been years in the making, but the City has received notice from the Ohio EPA that the site is now clean enough for new construction. Sam Stephens, an economic development officer at the city, believes in the site’s potential.

“The project is not only about cleaning up the Queen City Barrel Company site, but more importantly facilitating a development that can bring productive jobs to Lower Price Hill and positively impact the environment,” Stephens told UrbanCincy.

The team marketing MetroWest believes it is an ideal location for manufacturing thanks to its easy access to I-75, active rail lines on site, and is within 1.5 miles of downtown. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Sewer District is nearby and can offer up to 50 million gallons of any water quality daily, potentially lowering the costs for businesses that require high water use that need not be potable.

In 2008, Cincinnati completed its Growth and Opportunities Study (GO Cincinnati) with a team of national advisers in economic development and real estate. The final study categorized the Queensgate/South Mill Creek Corridor as “a generally obsolete corridor,” but also noted that “recycling South Mill Creek into the hub of green production in the region, and perhaps the nation, is indeed a unique market opportunity that could catalyze development in this aging industrial stock area.”

Perhaps serving as a contradiction is that while GO Cincinnati recommends the corridor for mostly ‘drivable sub-urban’ development, it also specifically identifies Lower Price Hill as “a ‘walkable-urban’ place, which is experiencing the beginning of a revitalization.”

The current task is marketing the site to find a buyer or tenant. Images shown to promote the site look ripped from the context of a suburban industrial park, places that are not even remotely ‘walkable-urban.’ Even though, project team members say, these images are only intended to show buildable square feet, they could quickly become reality.

The GO Cincinnati Study cites industrial tenants’ primary concern to be purely functional, with little concern for aesthetics or prestigious location. It should then fall to the City to make sure what is developed is actually beneficial to Cincinnati and the surrounding neighborhoods. Does Lower Price Hill want to welcome people on the Eighth Street Viaduct to their community with dirty manufacturing rooftops cluttered with mechanical units?

When asked about the City’s vision for the site, all of the development parties emphasized there will not be heavy industry and welcomed any interested manufacturing or light industrial businesses. Given the site’s history, and the City’s spotty responsiveness to environmental concerns in the past, the neighborhood would be right to be weary of new industrial development.

Eileen Gallagher, Lower Price Hill Community Council Secretary, says that the neighborhood is open to a variety of businesses but would want express their opinions on any business, saying, “LPH would welcome positive, safe development that would utilize potentially valuable land, create jobs, expand the city’s tax base, and perhaps give training and employment to neighborhood people.”

A vision should be expected from the city, one to which residents can respond. GO Cincinnati began that vision, but the recommendation for a “green industrial park” is not being followed. The City has owned the property for almost a decade and has spent years marketing the site without finding a buyer or tenant. Stephens, however, puts the idea of visioning a little differently.

“It’s the city’s job to serve our citizens, not define communities,” Stephens explained. However, even if Lower Price Hill creates a vision, will the City listen?

Alternative Vision: Industrial Mixed-Use with Residential
MetroWest is a few hundred feet east of Oyler School, and another few hundred feet from the LPH Community School. Paired with Evans Field Park, it will be a gateway to the future Price Landing park and Ohio River Trail West.

Increasingly, developers are recognizing the potential benefits of light industrial mixed use as manufacturing becomes greener, lighter, and cleaner. A Los Angeles study showed tax income on mixed-use development to be five times greater than solitary industrial uses. With a prime location near downtown and access to transportation, it would seem that MetroWest is a great location for residential use. Perhaps even the Eighth Street Viaduct could once again allow access to buildings from the sidewalk.

Ohio EPA’s approval for development at MetroWest, however, came with a caveat: the site can only be used for industrial and commercial uses. While the site is approved as safe, residential uses are prohibited. City officials say that the decision was made to only clean the site to commercial/industrial standards because the remediation grant would not cover the increased cost of cleaning the soil to a residential standard.

Another problem is that the site is currently zoned Manufacturing General, which would limit residential use. While the site, as is, cannot be used for residential, the decisions leading to this circumstance now appear short-sighted. Cincinnati’s zoning code is changing; and MetroWest will likely become Industrial Mixed Use (IX) in the current draft of the City’s Land Development Code. This important change would allow for residential use on upper floors, except for the covenant with Ohio EPA.

The city could go after more grant money to remediate the site to residential standards, but this would require a total restart of the remediation process – something that may very well be a bridge too far.

Alternative Vision: Sustainable Dreams
Without changing the site plan in marketing images, these are a few solutions that could significantly enhance the property.

  1. Densely plant trees around the building. Over time the ‘forest’ would help absorb air and noise pollution, and would be aesthetically breathtaking.
  2. Where deeper soil is clean enough, water gardens surrounding buildings could help contain storm water and provide an ecological habitat to complement the Mill Creek and Ohio River.
  3. Rooftop gardens could be used for edible or non-edible plants. If a nursery were created for native trees, any nearby resident could pick up a sapling (ash, maple, oak, walnut, cherry, locust) for free. In 40 years the neighborhood could be heavily forested. Alternatively, Kroger might be interested in a new distribution center with edible greens on their roof similar to what Whole Foods had done with one of their stores in Brooklyn, NY.

While much is not yet clear about the future of this site, it is evident that something will be built at MetroWest; and when it is, it will bring some amount of jobs to Lower Price Hill. The question now is whether a developer or industrial tenant will dictate the development, likely benefiting their own interests, or if the City of Cincinnati will work to enhance its environment with sustainable infrastructure and buildings that benefit Lower Price Hill.

VIDEO: $86M Nippert Stadium Renovation On-Schedule for August Opening

With the college football season behind us, the $86 million renovation and expansion of Nippert Stadium is now in its home stretch. At this point, the majority of structure work is now complete and interior work is now advancing during the cold weather.

The project is more of a renovation than it is an expansion. As part of the upgrades just a few thousand more seats will be added, along with the luxury boxes, overhauled concessions and restrooms, lounges and new technology that define the project.

A challenge from the beginning, however, was adding the new amenities in an environment severely constrained by existing buildings that at some points already help frame the stadium’s exterior. In order to accomplish that, New York-based Architecture Research Office, in collaboration with Heery International, designed it so that the structure would move upward along structure’s west side that sits adjacent to Tangeman University Center. The final results are interesting and unpredictable in a manner that should only add to the venue’s notoriety as the Wrigley Field of college football.

As part of the effort to upgrade the 114-year-old stadium, the University of Cincinnati has been issuing video updates about every three weeks. The latest includes Tom Gelehrter, Senior Director of New Media and Broadcasting at Bearcats Athletics, talking with project manager Bob Marton about recent progress that has been made and looking ahead to what is next.

One of the more notable changes in this update was the start of drilling work on the east concourse, which will eventually allow for construction of the two-story restroom and concession facility, stairways and light poles.

“A year ago we were drilling in this building, and now we’re drilling on the other side,” Marton explained in the the 5:29 video update. “We’ve got two levels of drilling going on…and that’s about a week’s worth of work.”

Due to the careful scheduling of construction activities, project officials do not anticipate ongoing cold temperatures to cause much of an issue since they had gone through it once before when drilling on the west side of the stadium last year.

If the project stays on schedule, it is expected to be complete by August 2015 – just ahead of this year’s September home opener for the Bearcats.

EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that FRCH Design Worldwide was the architect of record for this project. In fact, FRCH produced the project’s conceptual designs, while Architecture Research Office and Heery International were the primary designers.

Great Traditions Planning High-End Townhomes for Northside

While focusing on providing housing for Cincinnati’s increasing population, one might think primarily of downtown density, supported by multi-family apartments or highrises. In addition to the appeal of center city living, however, Cincinnati’s neighborhoods are becoming increasingly appealing to developers looking for a rich and diverse urban form with a mix of housing types.

As part of their City Series, which is focused on challenging infill sites throughout the city, D-HAS Architecture Planning & Design partnered with Great Traditions Land & Development Company and has proposed five new single family homes at the northwest corner of Fergus and Lingo Streets in Northside on what is now vacant land.

The team says that the 2-3 bedroom homes will have a flexible studies and detached garages. Ranging in size from 1,600 to 2,000 square feet, the homes are planned to be financed through pre-sales.

As of now, D-HAS offers 12 different exterior schemes and various floor plans to customize the model for each potential homeowner. The homes starting price will be in the mid-$200,000; while options for a third floor and accessory dwelling unit could push the size to around 3,000 square feet and closer to $350,000.

The price points are a bit higher than what has been developed in Northside in recent years, but Doug Hinger, owner of D-HAS and President of Great Traditions, told UrbanCincy that he believes a development need not be limited by the past performance of a neighborhood.

In fact, Hinger, who began his career in San Francisco and developed an interest in the unique character of urban housing, says that philosophy is what guides his company and made them interested in the neighborhood.

In addition to being attracted to the neighborhood because of its character, Hinger says his company also looks for neighborhoods that have community development corporations with a good structure and leader that is passionate about their work. In this case, D-HAS was worked with Cincinnati Northside Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CNCURC) and presented to key stakeholders in the community, including community council members.

This is not the first project taking such a bold approach for Great Traditions. In 2006 the company’s Stetson Square development in Corryville earned it the Community of the Year award from the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati. The project has turned out to be such a success that in November 2014, Tom Humes, President of Great Traditions, was recognized by the Niehoff Urban Studio at the University of Cincinnati for the company’s leadership as an urban visionary and city builder.

Similar to Corryville, Northside had experienced a tremendous loss of home-ownership in the mid 1990’s. This drew the attention of the Northside Community Council; and Stephanie Sunderland, now executive director of CNCURC, also began to be concerned with homes being purchased and rented by out-of-town interests that did not maintain the properties.

In 2006, CNCURC was donated the first parcel for this project, and purchased the remaining three parcels by 2013.

According to Sunderland, the homes on each of the parcels were in deplorable conditions and were all demolished by 2008. Then after considering the hundreds of new multifamily units already completed or under development in Northside, and the setting at Fergus and Lingo, CNCURC said they were looking for a developer interested in single family homes and that would also be responsive to the neighborhood.

“We wanted someone that listens to the community as a whole and is sensitive to what the community wants to see,” Sunderland explained.

With single family homes that CNCURC helped complete nearby that are marketed toward moderate income earners, the aim is for this new Great Traditions development is to continue the diversity for which Northside is known, and CNCURC hopes to reinforce. Additionally, Hinger says that the new homes will capitalize on an often overlooked aspect of urban single family homes – quality outdoor space.

As part of the design schemes, land between the home and detached garage will offer a unique exterior space that will serve as an extension of each home. From there D-HAS believes the quality of the homes will reinforce the fabric and architecture of the community to be a good neighbor and a catalytic development.

A groundbreaking date has not yet been set, but the development team estimates each home will take approximately six months to complete. Variances for the development are currently pending with the City of Cincinnati.

Mt. Airy Looking to Transform Part of Colerain Avenue Into Walkable Business District

On October 30, Klosterman’s Dry Cleaners, in the heart of the Mt. Airy neighborhood business district, was torn down. Long seen as an eyesore, the demolition was heralded by community leaders hopeful that it would spark a revitalization movement along the quarter-mile stretch of Colerain Avenue.

The demolition project came as part of the City of Cincinnati’s most recent award-winning Neighborhood Enhancement Program where various departments work together to improve neighborhoods through blight removal and code enforcement. It was funded through a $55,000 grant from the Department of Trade & Development and acquired through the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation.

This is the first phase of a more comprehensive plan to redevelop the district that was put together by the Mt. Airy Community Urban Redevelopment Enterprise (C.U.R.E.), CR Architects, Urban Fast Forward thanks to a $30,000 grant from the City of Cincinnati. The Mt. Airy Revitalization Strategy was completed in March 2013 and provides a four-phase vision to enhance the business district.

The 20-page report concludes that buildings separated from the street by parking on the western side of Colerain Avenue have diminished the quality of the business district. The authors of the report also point to the prospects of implementing a form-based code for the area.

“Ideally new construction in Mt. Airy would apply the principles of a form-based code, at least in such matters as relationship of the building to the sidewalk and the placement of parking,” the report stated. “This will protect and build upon the existing good of the business district and help to give Mt. Airy a unique character as a neighborhood.”

Leadership at Mt. Airy C.U.R.E. says that the demolished dry cleaner will allow for the creation of a new centrally located parking lot in the business district that will also function as a gathering space for community events. The second phase of work, which community leaders hope can be completed by the end of 2015, will make streetscaping improvements and look to address existing storefronts.

“The existing conditions of the facades and storefronts are not that good,” Gerald Fortson, Senior Development Officer at Cincinnati’s Department of Trade & Development, told UrbanCincy. “Upgrading them will allow property owners to attract the caliber of tenants the district desires.”

Phases three and four of the plan call for more aggressive action through the development of new structures along the western side of the street currently dominated by auto-oriented buildings.

As part of phase three work, a vacant lot and an existing 3,200-square-foot structure would be torn down and replaced by a new street-fronting 3,500-square foot retail building and a 24-space parking lot. Then, in phase four, two structures totaling 9,400 square feet of retail space would be razed to make way for a new 7,500-square-foot retail building that would also front onto Colerain Avenue. This part of the plan also calls for the creation of a new mid-block crossing for pedestrians.

“We hope to make this area a place that could encourage people to slow down and to see the business here,” explained Corless Roper, President of Mt. Airy C.U.R.E.

Over time neighborhood officials also hope to develop a wayfinding system and branding for one of the west side’s rare neighborhood business districts. If all goes according to plan, the whole revitalization program could be complete within five years.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Mt. Airy to rebrand and market itself in a new light, focusing on a safe and clean community that will draw our diverse neighborhood together, and eventually attract new businesses as we achieve the phases in our plan,” Roper stated. “Moving forward, we will creatively launch a campaign to raise funds in order to make our dream a reality, knowing that Mt. Airy is on the move!”