Second Phase of Newport on the Levee to Come More Than 15 Years After First

Newport on the Levee was the talk of the town in the late 1990s. It was to be one of the most prominent development projects in the urban core for some time, and transform Newport’s riverfront into a place that would attract tourists year-round.

There were also lofty visions that the development of Newport on the Levee would spark a wholesale redevelopment of the Northern Kentucky river city, including virtually every neighboring property and the development of the 1,000-foot-tall Millennium Tower.

These ambitions, however, were never fully realized. Newport on the Levee experienced a number a setbacks and never fully embraced the mixed-use nature that would ensure its success, Millennium Tower was cancelled almost as quickly as it was proposed, and while surrounding development has taken place, it has come at a much slower pace than envisioned.

Earlier this month developers took the next step forward with a plan to build on the long vacant Lot B next to the Purple People Bridge that would aim to address those issues.

According to Capital Investment Group (CIG), the investment would total $80 million and add 238 residential units, 8,000 square feet of street-level retail space, a 150-room hotel and an 800-space parking garage.

Newport city officials and CIG representatives say they intend to start construction in July 2015 and wrap-up a year later.

While this is good news for Newport on the Levee, it is certainly not when or how developers and city officials had originally envisioned the riverfront development taking shape.

In 2000, the plan was for Newport on the Levee to include a mall with a movie theater complex, an aquarium, a state-of-the-art 3-D IMAX theater, and a second phase of development that would begin just two years later and be anchored by a 200-room hotel.

Problems arose almost immediately when the 3-D IMAX shut down just two years after it opened in 2001. The retail portions of the mall also never seemed to live up to expectations, perhaps following in Tower Place Mall’s footsteps and illustrating that enclosed shopping malls tend to not work in urban settings.

As a result, the mall portion of the development has seen a constant cycle of tenants in and out, and more recently the replacement of most retail inside the mall structure by office tenants. Several restaurant operations have even relocated across the river to The Banks development. The former 456-seat IMAX theater has since been filled by the successful Newport Aquarium.

Shortly after the opening of the first phase of work at Newport on the Levee, city officials also pursued the USS Cincinnati submarine in an effort to dock it along the shore of the Ohio River next to Newport on the Levee. Those plans never materialized and now only a portion of the submarine vessel will be returning to the region – at a location in a future phase of Smale Riverfront Park along Cincinnati’s riverfront.

During all of this Newport Aquarium has been a particularly bright spot for the development. It is consistently named one of the nation’s best aquariums and is a constant draw for tourists and locals alike – attracting more than 11 million visitors since it opened 15 years ago.

With the Great Recession now in the past and new competition from The Banks, Newport officials and developers are looking to jump start things once more. The second phase of Newport on the Levee may be more than a decade behind schedule, but it will add a critical component that was sorely missing from the original development.

Full-time residents and a hotel at the site will help drive more business to shops and restaurants operating outside of the typical weekend hours popular for tourists. The revived talk of extending the streetcar system across the river also shows a new sense of collaboration and possibility that did not exist in the lead up to the new millennium.

Will Main Street Follow in Vine Street’s Footsteps and Return to Two-Way Traffic?

City and community leaders are taking a fresh look at some of Over-the-Rhine’s streets and intersections to see if they might be able to better function if managed differently.

In the 1940’s many downtown streets were converted from two-way to one-way traffic in order to stream automobile traffic through the city center. With the completion of Interstate 75 in the late 1950’s and Interstate 71 in the late 1960’s, some of these streets became important feeders into the highway system.

Additionally, many north-south streets, such as Main, Walnut and Vine, remained one-way to help move traffic throughout the new auto-oriented street system.

It eventually became clear, however, that one-way streets were not adding much benefit beyond moving vehicles slightly faster on their way to and from the interstate highways.

As a result, the City of Cincinnati spent around $400,000 in 1999 to convert Vine Street back to two-way travel from Central Parkway to McMicken Avenue. A subsequent study in 2004 found that traffic along Vine Street became slightly more congested, but also reduced the speed of motorists traveling through the historic neighborhood.

Since its conversion, Vine Street has also blossomed with dozens of new businesses, which can, in part, be attributed to slower traffic and improved access and visibility. As a result, there have been several other examples of this type of conversion throughout Over-the-Rhine, including sections of Thirteenth and Fourteenth Streets.

Two-way street conversions are typically credited with improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists, while also helping local businesses along the street by making it easier for drivers to navigate city streets. In addition to that, a civil engineer from Penn State University even found that the conversion of one-way streets can even improve traffic flow.

“Two-way networks can serve more trips per unit time than one-way networks when average trip lengths are short,” Dr. Vikash Gayah wrote in his essay. “This study also found that two-way networks in which left-turn movements were banned at intersection could always serve trips at a higher rate than one-way networks could, even long trips.”

Gayah’s conclusion was that the trip-serving capacity of a street network can actually be improved when converted to two-way operations, and when left turns are banned.

“This framework can be used by planners and engineers to determine how much a network’s capacity changes after a conversion, and also to unveil superior conversion options,” Gayah noted.

In Cincinnati, initiating such conversions can come in the form of streetscaping projects or through formal requests made by neighborhood leaders. From there, City engineers will determine the feasibility of suggested conversions. In some cases, like E. Twelfth, E. Thirteenth, Fourteenth Streets, City engineers have said that the streets are too narrow to be converted and remain one-way to allow for on-street parking.

The Over-the-Rhine Community Council recently submitted a request to the City to convert Main Street back to two-way traffic.

“At most times of the day Main Street has relatively light traffic and motorists speed down the street in order to make every green light,” Seth Maney, head of Main Street OTR, explained to UrbanCincy. “It can seem more like a drag strip than a pedestrian-oriented business district.”

The specific request from Over-the-Rhine activists is to convert both Main Street and Walnut Street. However, transportation officials say that the routing of the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar will prohibit such a conversion south of Twelfth Street.

“The streetcar route is something we have to consider if there was a desire to convert the north-south streets to two way traffic.” said Michael Moore, Director of Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering (DOTE). “The conversion from Twelfth to Liberty Street, however, would be relatively simple.”

In addition to Twelfth Street, the streetcar’s routing along Elm and Race would also seem to make it improbable that either of those streets could be converted to two-way traffic.

PHOTOS: Take a Look at Metro’s New Uptown Transit District Stations

City officials and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) unveiled the new $7 million Uptown Transit District earlier this year. The hope is that the enhanced stations and improved design will improve the experience for existing and future bus riders.

But if the Glenway Crossing Transit Center is to serve as any evidence, then this might in fact pay off for Metro in the form of higher ridership.

The Uptown Transit District, however, is a bit different from the west side park and ride station, and the long-time Government Square hub. Instead, it is four distinct areas – Children’s Hospital, Vine & Calhoun, University, Clifton Heights – within the sprawling Uptown area that are seen as major nodes for riders. Transportation planners at Metro say this approach was taken due to the layout of Uptown and the lack of a single location that could serve as a major hub like Government Square is for Downtown.

In addition to serving a dozen or so existing bus lines, different stations in the Uptown Transit District also serve the University of Cincinnati’s Bearcat Transportation System (BTS) and the regional bus authority’s new Metro*Plus route.

All of the stations include covered seating areas similar to those being constructed for the Cincinnati Streetcar system. They also include real-time arrival screens, area wayfinding, ADA accessibility and include information about nearby landmarks.

The stations were designed by Cincinnati-based MSA Architects.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: All 22 photos were taken by Eric Anspach for UrbanCincy on August 22, 2014.

VIDEO: New Views of Ohio River Opened Up with Latest Excavation Work at Smale Riverfront Park

Lots of visual progress has been made on Cincinnati’s $120 million Smale Riverfront Park over the past few months.

Since the last construction update in June, project manager Dave Prather explains that the steel framing for Carol Ann’s Carousel is now taking shape, and that the Vine Street fountains and steps have now fully taken on their form. These steps and cascading fountains will be similar to the Walnut Street fountains and steps already completed to the east.

Prather also takes us inside the rentable event space beneath the carousel and fountain plaza.

While it is still quite messy with construction activity, Cincinnati Parks officials are actively promoting it and booking reservations now. Park officials tell UrbanCincy that the Anderson Pavilion will have two event spaces – Longworth Room and Mendenhall Room – that can accommodate up to 300 people. Special events can be booked through Premier Park Events at 513-221-2610.

During the nearly 12-minute video, you can also now see a new view of the Ohio River now that excavation has begun on the park’s great lawn. This area of the park will bring visitors as closer to the water than anywhere else.

Most all of the work profiled in this latest video update is anticipated to be complete in time for the 2015 MLB All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park. The week-long festivities leading up to the weekend of games is expected to being thousands of visitors and millions of eyeballs to the city’s central riverfront.

GUEST EDITORIAL: Is Society Too Demanding When it Comes to Urbanity?

As new cities and neighborhoods emerge these days, with tall buildings and structures, one can’t help but notice and say that urbanity is indeed here.

But the word ‘urbanity’ doesn’t even have a concrete definition being discussed. Henri Lefebvre is even critical of the definition of modern urbanism because it does not define urban life really well. For him, urbanity is an encounter saying that it is “the meeting of difference, of strangers in the city, it was about everyday life and play, the sensuality of the city.”

Urbanity principles are also said to be applicable to any land projects from a single building to an entire city. More so, in urban planning debates, the concept of urbanity is always present but only to the visions of governments, architects, landowners and developers. But what is urbanity in its truest sense? And if defined, does it clearly serve its purpose, or does it give a meaning different from what we expect? And if people understood urbanity, will they be totally sold out to the idea, or will they contest it?

The Hard (or Strong) Way of Urbanity
People, who strongly support the idea of urbanity, bank on its benefits to the people who might reside or work in an urban setting. In fact, Congress for the New Urbanism details four primary benefits of urbanism.

For people who will reside or work in urban cities, it means being able to achieve a higher quality of life including improved living places and improved building and property architecture such as a condo; work and play included. Property lands are valued higher, yet are more stable. Experts highlight the idea of being close to everything that you need. Residents are able to feel safe and secure thanks to pedestrian-friendly sites and reduced transportation costs since you can simply take a walk or have a short ride to your destination anywhere in the city.

It also includes additional benefits to businesses, focusing on increased sales and revenues. It also drives loyal customers living in the city itself, and better lifestyle for business owners by having spaces above their stores also known as live-work units.

Developers also have reasons to be happy for urban cities. Communities will be able to adopt smart growth principles which in turn can save more money and time. A higher density mixed-use land project can also generate a greater income potential thanks to more leasable square footage of land, high selling prices, and high property values.

Municipalities embracing the idea of urbanity will benefit as well, with less crime rates due to enhanced security and presence of more people at day time and night time. Compact and high-density projects will allow governments to spend less on infrastructure and utilities, compared to a suburban development.

The Harder Resistance for Urbanity
Looking on the other side of urbanity, those who are against it point out several factors why urbanity does not work at all. In one case, urban areas experience more traffic congestion with the increased growth rate of its population.

Also, there are new urban developments that just aren’t for everyone; say for those who want wider spaces in their condominiums, people living in close proximity to each other thus providing small living spaces pose a problem. Even though pro-urbanists will say that their innovative structures are adapting through the needs of time, anti-urbanists will be more skeptical of it and instead pose more questions on what those structures can do for them based on their preferences.

And the stronger opposition comes from the idea of affordable spaces in these urban cities. Searching for good places is harder because of high prices especially for those lands near shopping malls, parks, schools, etc. Anthony Flint, in his article, ‘A Tipping Point—But Now the Hard Part‘ talks about the increasing demand for alternatives due to high prices. In Little Elm, Texas, homes are priced starting at $100,000. Add to it heating and cooling bills for large homes which greatly affects a family’s budget.

The Hard or Easy Way for Urbanity?
There are certain ideas that are totally applicable to urban cities, but some can’t be implemented due to certain factors.

Skyscrapers are also included in urban planning and land development. But certain cities in the U.S. can’t build skyscrapers that are too tall and too thin or what they call “superskinnies”, because of land availability. According to architect Gordon Gill, together with his firm Adrian Smith+Gordon Gill, there are some places where superskinnies are not possible.

“We cut slots, we punch holes, we create notches in the corners of the buildings to mitigate the effects of wind, on tall and thin buildings alike. But there are some places where superskinnies will just never go. No matter how pitched income inequality comes to be in San Francisco, these towers will never rise there. For areas that are seismic, the slenderer buildings are not advisable,” Gill says.

Pro-urbanists will also push the idea that green architecture has impacts on energy use and sustainability trends are here to stay. And the anti-urbanists will continue to look for loopholes on their arguments.

The decision of embracing the idea of urbanity lies on the people itself, and how they will see their roles in it. It might be hard for some, but still others will be comfortable in living in an urban setting. Certain improvements need to be in place, such as government policies, improved infrastructure and living spaces. With all of these factors in place, people might be possibly united in the concept of urbanity.

Kimberly Grimms describes herself as a futurist and is a writer for Social Media Today. She studied Community Development and currently resides in New Jersey. You can follow and interact with her on Twitter @KimberlyGrimms.

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