PHOTOS: Construction Continues to Transform Cincinnati’s Central Riverfront

The changes early phases of The Banks and Smale Riverfront Park brought to Cincinnati’s central waterfront were remarkable to many lifelong Cincinnatians. In fact, when UrbanCincy showed those dramatic changes through Google Street View imagery last year many were stunned.

Those changes, however, were just the beginning. Work has progressed rapidly on the subsequent phases of work at The Banks and Smale Riverfront Park. The structures and final look of this work is now taking shape and is easily visible.

Much of the work at Smale Riverfront Park will be complete within the next month or so; then the next wave of activity will begin and continue to push the park westward toward its ultimate completion several years later. The second phase of The Banks, which includes 60,000 square feet of street-level retail, 300 apartments and General Electric’s 340,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, is scheduled for completion at the end of 2015. The complete build out of GE’s new $90 million office building will not be fully finished until sometime in 2016.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 15 photographs in this gallery were taken by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy on April 12, 2015.

Autograph Collection Hotel Planned for Former Anna Louise Inn Building

Shortly after breaking the news that The Banks development team is in negotiations with AC Hotels to bring the trendy European hotel brand to the central riverfront, UrbanCincy confirmed that the real estate development arm of Western & Southern is close to finalizing an agreement that would bring a boutique hotel to Lytle Park as well.

Multiple sources have confirmed that a deal is being worked out that would bring an Autograph Collection hotel to the former Anna Louise Inn. When reached for comment, Mario San Marco, President of Eagle Realty Group, acknowledged that the company is working diligently to bring an Autograph Collection hotel to the site, but that details had not yet been finalized or presented to City Hall.

Western & Southern executives had previously stated that they wanted to bring a boutique hotel to the site that would have somewhere around 106 rooms. The plan would fit the company’s larger plans for the historic district that call for creating a high-end enclave surrounding Lytle Park, which Western & Southern helped save from demolition in the 1960s by pushing for the creation of Lytle Tunnel.

Autograph Collection is a unique brand owned by Marriott International. Instead of the rest of their brands which maintain their names, Autograph Collection makes a unique name and concept for each of their sites. The closest such hotel is Cleveland’s 156-room Metropolitan at The 9.

Sources have also confirmed that, like the AC Hotel at The Banks, this boutique concept by Autograph Collection would be managed by Cincinnati-based Winegardner & Hammons.

The two recent hotel announcements appear to be the end of the center city’s recent hotel boom that has included a new 122-room SpringHill Suites, 134-room Residence Inn by Marriott, 160-room 21c Museum Hotel, 323-room Renaissance Hotel, 105-unit Homewood Suites, 144-room Hampton Inn & Suites, and a 144-room Aloft Hotel.

The boom has also included major, multi-million dollar renovations of the Hyatt Regency and Westin Hotel in the heart of the central business district. The remaining unanswered question continues to be what will happen with the deteriorating Millennium Hotel, which, at 872 rooms, is the center city’s largest, and serves as the region’s primary convention hotel.

Despite the addition of more than 1,100 new hotel rooms over the past several years, occupancy rates have held relatively constant. More critically, room rates and RevPAR – the hotel industry’s calculation of revenue per hotel room – have been steadily increasing over the same period and are now well above regional and national averages.

Project leaders at Eagle Realty Group declined to provide any specific timeline or budget for the project, but previously stated that they hope to get an operator under contract by mid-2015, with construction commencing shortly thereafter.

Federal Reserve Has Rosy Outlook for Cincinnati’s Over-Performing Economy

A spring 2015 update on the economic health of the Cincinnati region from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland gives reason for optimism when it comes to the area’s recovery.

The Cincinnati metropolitan area is recovering at a rate equal to that of the nation, and production, income, and GDP are all up in the area. LaVaughn Henry, vice president and senior regional officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Cincinnati Branch, cited the area’s diversified economy as one reason for robust growth.

More specifically, the Fed pointed to Cincinnati’s large employment percentages in the consumer marketing field as a reason for its success. As the nation continues to recover and consumer confidence and consumption rise, Cincinnati is poised to benefit at a greater rate than other metropolitan areas.

Further bolstering the region’s growth are the construction and manufacturing sectors, having grown 7% and 4% over the last year, respectively. Healthcare and education are also growing, while the area’s business and professional sectors are lagging behind national averages.

Overall Cincinnati’s performance seems to be mirroring that of the nation, with high growth in manufacturing and construction, stagnant growth in government, and large drops in the information sector.

The region’s employment rate now stands at 4.5%, nearly a point lower than the national average and the lowest level in 10 years. The average Cincinnatian is seeing the fruits of this economic growth, with wages growing faster than the rest of Ohio and other nearby metros. Henry says that wages are poised to reach an average of $840 a week – a level not seen since 2007.

The region, however, has not yet managed to reach pre-Recession employment levels. This is in line with the national trend, although behind local metropolitan areas.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland also cited recent announcements from companies planning major job expansions as reason for continued optimism that the area’s employment growth will continue. While the local housing market has seen sluggish growth, the Henry says that shrinking housing supply and increased construction will strengthen the sector.

Clifton Celebrates Restoration of Community’s Historic Probasco Fountain

Yesterday afternoon, “Henry Probasco” dedicated a public fountain in Clifton for the second time in 128 years. Well…an actor playing Henry Probasco, the former businessman, philanthropist, and mayor of what was then the Village of Clifton.

“To the People of Clifton. Thirsty And Ye Gave Me Drink.”

These words adorn a plaque on the Probasco Fountain on Clifton Avenue, in front of the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, a monument of granite and bronze that has been relocated seven-and-a-half feet to the west and three feet to the north.

The City of Cincinnati, which included $400,000 in its capital budget for the project, also added lighting, a small plaza, and a number of much-needed underground fixes.

Now, it’s again available for your horse. More practically, it’s available as a legitimate source of potable water for you, your pet, and the local bird population. It is also just nice to look at and admire.

“I think we’ve come up with a great new location,” said Dick Druffel, who formerly served as president of Clifton Town Meeting (CTM), the neighborhood’s community council. “As we look at this beautiful historic monument, and its more accessible and safer location, we can truly appreciate its beauty and the generosity of Henry Probasco, one of Clifton’s most famous residents.”

Installed in 1887 and designed by Samuel Hannaford, the fountain was a gift from Probasco to his town’s residents and was placed at what was once the center of village life, a convenient stopping point for travelers leaving the congested and polluted city. In 1980, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Last cleaned in the late 1970s, the fountain had been showing its age; and its location within inches of Clifton Avenue presented clear safety and accessibility issues. In the summer of 2012, members from Clifton Community Fund raised additional concerns about its deterioration.

In response, Clifton resident and Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann (D) was able to dig into some archives suggesting the fountain’s renovation from a presentation that had come up during his time on City Council in the 1990s. This led CTM to form a fountain subcommittee to work as a liaison between City departments and local residents in December 2012.

Druffel chaired the subcommittee. He says that its members considered it a community problem that required a community solution.

“Getting agreement to restore the fountain was easy,” Druffel stated. “It was almost unanimous that the fountain should be restored. Where to put the historic fountain was quite another matter.”

Two public engagement sessions were held in 2013, during which nine possible relocation sites were suggested by residents. About a dozen presentations occurred at CTM meetings throughout early 2013, and by May 2013 CTM had made its choice of location, passed a resolution of support, and sent a letter alerting the City of its plan.

“The process was incredibly transparent and the end solution was better because of the involvement of the community,” explained Vice Mayor Mann, who was an early member of that subcommittee.

“I guess it’s a lesson that sometimes you just have to take the time to get a great result,” Druffel responded.

The Clifton Community Fund will pay for a new historic marker to be placed near the plaza in the future.

$40M Avondale Town Center Redevelopment Could Change Fate of City’s 7th Biggest Neighborhood

If a team of local organizations have their way, Avondale Town Center will offer a jolt of investment like perhaps none other to date in the neighborhood.

The town center development project is actually the final of three phases worth of work in Avondale that have thus far taken a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and leveraged it into $100 million. So far the money, part of the community’s Choice Neighborhoods implementation, has gone toward rehabbing nine properties throughout the neighborhood, but the final phase will bring new construction to Reading Road.

“Since we initially conceived of the Avondale Town Center development, we’ve entered into robust conversations with the community on the potential for the whole project,” Jeffrey Beam, Director of Development for The Community Builders, told UrbanCincy in an exclusive interview.

Beam says that these conversations have led to an expansion of the original concept, and now includes a two-part $40 million vision for much of the northwest corner of Reading Road and Rockdale/Forest Avenue. Based on feedback from the community, the development, as it stands now, would include residential and commercial uses, along with a long-desired grocery store.

“The mayor is excited to do it all as one development that could leverage other financing like New Market Tax Credits,” explained Beam.

For years, The Community Builders have been working with Avondale Community Council and the Avondale Community Development Corporation in an effort to improve one of the city’s most historically significant and proud neighborhoods.

The centrally located Avondale Town Center site is composed of a large wooded lot, which is referred to as Avondale Town Center North and would be the first to be developed, and the 47,000-square-foot strip mall and an accompanying surface parking. In total, the redevelopment of the site would create three new structures, ideally built out to the street in a pedestrian friendly manner, and include a total of 118 residential units and 80,000 square feet of retail.

Project officials say that while many details need to be fleshed out, Avondale Town Center North is the most fleshed out so far and would include 72 residential units, of which 51 would be reserved for low-income renters.

The goal, Beam says, is to have the design documents complete this spring so that they can begin approaching potential retail tenants, and line up financing like New Market Tax Credits. If all of that happens, then ground could be broken on the project as early as 2016.

One of the things benefiting the effort is the fact that the City of Cincinnati owns the land, and is engaged in a land-lease with a coalition of local churches and individual leases with tenants inside the strip mall, which at one point held an IGA grocery store. The City’s formal interest was made clear when Mayor John Cranley (D) touted the project and showed off a conceptual rendering for the site in his inaugural State of the City address.

“This will provide access to healthier and fresher food choices in one of our city’s under-served food deserts,” Cranley, the first-term mayor from Mt. Lookout, told the audience on September 18, 2014. “Maybe a new grocery store in the heart of Avondale will help us to begin replacing a sub-culture of guns and early death with a culture of long life and healthy eating.”

While no potential grocers have been lined up at this point, the development team says they will be in search of a “proven” operator that can bring healthy and fresh food to the neighborhood, while also offering training and retention programs for local employment.

“We would like the operator to be committed to altering their offerings to be as customized for the neighborhood as possible,” said Beam. “While we are not sure what that means yet, we have gotten into varying levels of discussions with potential operators about it.”

Whatever tenants and operators eventually move in, they will be moving into a markedly different site than what has existed for the past several decades. Noting that the existing strip mall with most likely be torn down, or, at the very least, substantially altered, Beam says the aim to embrace the neighborhood’s urban location.

“The vision is for a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented development at Avondale Town Center.”

Considering there is a Metro*Plus station at this exact location and that approximately 40% of Avondale’s residents do not own a car, the development team seems to be heading down the right path.