Hamilton Earning National Praise For Its Smart Growth Development Approach

Last month, the City of Hamilton was recognized for its built projects by the US EPA as one of three National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement in 2015.

The awards are given annually to three local government entities that embody the spirit of smart growth by embracing policies and strategies that re-utilize existing infrastructure, protect the environment, provide inclusive mixed-income housing, and strengthen local economies.

In the selection process, Hamilton was specifically singled out for a public-private partnership with Historic Developers, LLC that resulted in three redevelopment and preservation projects. This included Mercantile Lofts, Hamilton’s first new downtown housing in decades, and the conversion of the Journal-News’ former offices into an arts and dance studio that now houses the Miami Valley Ballet Theatre.

Officials say that the partnership leveraged just over $17 million to spark an additional $15 million in investment at adjacent properties.

Over the past five years, these initial projects have been a part of more than $65 million in direct investment, by both local and regional developers, along downtown Hamilton’s High Street corridor.

This award follows numerous others that have been given to the city by other organizations, including the International Economic Development Council’s Excellence in Economic Development awards in 2013 and 2014.

The other two cities recognized in this year’s National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement were Newark, NJ for its revitalized riverfront park, and Jackson, TN for its Jackson Walk mixed-use development in its completely rebuilt downtown district.

Groundbreaking For Region’s First Tiny Homes To Take Place This Wednesday

After a year of work, Cincinnati’s first modern iterations of tiny living will soon become a reality when ground is broken on Wednesday, October 14.

The project was made possible through People’s Liberty, which awarded one of its first two Haile Fellowships to Brad Cooper last December. Since that time, Cooper, a professionally trained architect, has been working on the designs for the two homes.

Throughout the process, Cooper says that he has come across various challenges, but some of the most pressing have been related to the economics behind the homes. One of the driving goals of the project has been to create affordable living options for working class individuals. As a result, early on he partnered with the Over-the-Rhine Community Housing to secure the purchase of the two properties on Peete Street for just $1.

One of the homes is being made available to anyone interested in purchasing it, and will be listed at $200,000. This will include solar power generation on-site and a 15-year tax abatement valued at $98,000. The other home will be restricted to those that meet annual income qualifications set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Cincinnati region.

“Hindsight provides some extra knowledge,” Cooper told UrbanCincy. “I would have liked the pricing to be less than what they’re set at now, but I still think it’s a good deal.”

While Cooper believes strongly in the final product, he does wish that some things were done differently in order to help reduce costs even more. In particular, that would have included completing the geotechnical investigation earlier and selecting a general contractor earlier in the process.

One of the changes made to the design for the income restricted home was the removal of the parking space. When the initial designs were unveiled on UrbanCincy, the incorporation of parking spaces for both homes was a major sticking point for many readers.

“Most people that have been to the site want a parking space and the surrounding neighbors agree,” Cooper explained. “It could be something a homeowner says they don’t want and we’ll have that conversation.”

Another criticism of the project has been that the two tiny homes might not be appropriate for a neighborhood like Over-the-Rhine that is populated with larger, multi-family buildings. Cooper says that he is looking forward to doing another project that is multi-family somewhere else in the neighborhood.

“Over-the-Rhine is ideal for micro living because anything you need is a short walk away, but that’s not exclusive to OTR,” said Cooper. “Cincinnati has some great inner ring neighborhoods.”

While higher densities may be the future for micro-apartments in Cincinnati, the two tiny homes on Peete Street – the first of their kind in Cincinnati – are something Cooper and People’s Liberty say they are proud to have introduced to the region.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work on a development project totally different than what’s being built today in Cincinnati,” Cooper said. “People’s Liberty offers the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and dream big by diving deep into a challenge without requiring traditional performance metrics or revenue generation.”

The groundbreaking for the two tiny homes will take place at 5:30pm at 144 Peete Street this Wednesday. The free event is open to the public, and will include light food, cider and complimentary polaroid photos of guests digging on-site.

Based on early interest, Cooper says that he expects to close on the first home by the end of the month. Those that are interested in purchasing either of the homes can contact him at BradCooper@peoplesliberty.org, or submit an inquiry on the project’s website.

PHOTOS: Aqua on the Levee Rising Along Newport’s Waterfront

Last November developers broke ground on the $80 million second phase of Newport on the Levee, called Aqua on the Levee, some 15 years after the first phase opened. Since that time, a significant amount of work has progressed on the project that will yield 239 apartments, a hotel, and 8,300 square feet of retail.

The project is being built atop what long sat as a three-acre surface parking lot at the foot of the Purple People Bridge.

The residential component is expected to bolster business for retailers at the complex that have struggled to draw crowds on non-weekend days. It will also bring the first Aloft Hotel to the region, which will also be the trendy hotel’s first in Kentucky and feature 144 rooms, a bar and 10,000 square feet of meeting space.

The project is being developed by Capital Investment Group and Musselman Hotels, and is expected to be completed in fall 2016.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All six photographs were taken by Travis Estell on September 27, 2015.

Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation Refocusing Efforts on Inclusive, Equitable Change

Recently, David Brooks wrote an article for the New York Times about Vice President Joe Biden. The article referenced Biden’s ‘Formation Story.’ Regardless of the politics of the article, we were drawn to this term. In order to be effective in civic work we must have a deep understanding of who we are and what drives us to get out of bed every day and fight.

Most people don’t realize that the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation has been around for almost 40 years. We were created by the community council in 1977 to develop quality affordable housing in a time when places like Walnut Hills were being abandoned and, in many cases, forgotten.

After decades of assorted success, the organization was at a crossroads five years ago. We could close our doors … or innovate into an organization that reimagines our role as much more. Having chosen the latter, we maintained that we didn’t just want to be a developer. We wanted to be a catalyst for sustainable and positive change. Partnerships with the Walnut Hills Area Council and Walnut Hills Business Group ignited that course, yet, we have still struggled to establish an identity.

Throughout this time we’ve asked big picture questions like ‘What is our purpose?’ ‘What do we value?’ and ‘What will we fight for?’ Recognizing the importance of community input, we posed these tough questions in the form of neighborhood listening sessions, survey collection, and through non-traditional engagement streams. As a result, our new brand was born.

Our new brand identity is a mash up of what we’ve heard in the community over the last four years. It reflects our relentless desire for equitable change and growth. It reflects community development that values the community organizing and boots on the ground strategy of the past and matches it with the modern day approaches to big, bold and innovative ideas that are driving urban expansion across the country. It is an inclusive brand that respects and celebrates the history and identity of Walnut Hills, while inviting new stakeholders to the table to contribute to our community’s growth.

Will inclusive and equitable change be easy? Will we always be as successful as we want to be? No. It will be hard. Damn hard. But we believe that we must do what’s hard. We believe that we must lead by example. And guess what? We can’t do it alone. This type of change is going to require your participation, through both successes and challenges. It’s going to require all of us to listen to each other, to inspire each other, to be agile, smart and strategic together.

We believe that the future of community development belongs to change agents and risk takers. Those who believe the impossible is possible. Are you one of those people? Are you ready?

Let’s go.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This letter was jointly authored by Kevin Wright, Executive Director of the WHRF, and Christina D. Brown, who serves as the organization’s president. Wright was a reporter for UrbanCincy in 2010, prior to taking on his leadership role in Walnut Hills.

Construction to Start on $29M South Hamilton Crossing Project This March

Hamilton city officials recently celebrated the announcement that Barclaycard would bring up to 1,500 jobs to Vora Technology Park for a new call center. Now, in almost perfect timing, public officials say they are ready to move forward with a $29 million project that will greatly improve access to the site.

Last week the OKI Regional Council of Governments awarded $3.75 million to the South Hamilton Crossing project. This is in addition to a previous allocation of $2.45 million from OKI, and $10 million from the State of Ohio. The remaining funds are coming from the City of Hamilton and Butler County.

“OKI’s support of the South Hamilton Crossing project is crucial to its success and illustrates how important the overpass is to our regional transit network,” City Manager Joshua Smith stated in a prepared release.

Hamilton has long been defined by its numerous freight railways. While they have been productive for the city, they have also served as barriers between neighborhoods since they typically operate at-grade.

The Jack Kirsch Underpass on High Street is the only grade-separated rail crossing in Hamilton that offers east-west flow. As a result, the South Hamilton Crossing has long been envisioned; with some plans showing it that date all the way back to 1911.

As of now, Grand Boulevard terminates at the CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks in Lindenwald. People walking, biking or driving must then head north along Central Avenue and then cut across the four railroad tracks diagonally.

This new project will extend Grand Boulevard to the west to University Boulevard, serving Vora Technology Park and Miami University Hamilton. Instead of crossing the four railroad tracks, the extended road will bridge them, thus offering fewer conflicts for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, along with fewer restrictions for freight operators.

“SHX is very important for both safety and economic reasons,” said Smith. “With the recent announcement that Barclaycard is opening a 1,500 person facility at Vora Technology Park, the need for better access to the area is more important now than ever.”

Transportation officials say that 56 trains travel through this crossing on a daily basis, which results in its blockage a total of 15.3% of the time. As a result, the new overpass is expected to greatly improve connectivity, reduce travel times, and increase safety.

Project leaders say that construction should begin in March 2016 and be completed in mid-2018.