Episode #58: Streetsblog Gathering

Downtown CincinnatiOn the 58th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we discuss our recent meet-up of Streetsblog writers from around the county in Cincinnati. We talk about the visitors’ impressions of Cincinnati and what lessons we learned from other cities.

Finally, we talk about our experiences using Red Bike to get around the urban core, and discussed the latest news on the Cincinnati Streetcar project.

Could Narrowing Liberty Street Unlock New Development Potential in OTR?

Streets can set the mood and feel of a place. Narrow streets with low traffic are quiet, easy to walk across and casual. Wide streets can be chaotic, full of traffic and hard to bridge on foot. There is a wide street in Over-the-Rhine that cuts through the northern part of the neighborhood and the southern revitalizing part of it. It’s Liberty Street.

Liberty Street was not always so wide. Before 1955 the street, which now dead ends at Reading Road and the I-471 ramps, extended from Highland Avenue on the hill in Mt. Auburn to the U.S. Post Office facility in Queensgate. The width of the street was a modest 25 feet.

In 1955, however, the city decided to widen and connect it to Reading Road as a east-west cross town access point for the interstate highway system. Buildings on the south side of the street were demolished and the street was widened from a two lane road to one with five lanes.

The street is currently 70 feet wide and is both dangerous and difficult to cross for people walking. Development has not taken place on the south side of the street since most of remaining lots are too small and oddly shaped for development.

Beyond its physical barriers, Liberty Street also serves as a psychological barrier between the nascent Brewery District and vibrant Gateway Quarter.

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In 2012, the City’s Department of Transportation & Engineering began studying ways to calm traffic on the street in order to make it safer. After spending two years evaluating traffic conditions, City Hall is beginning to engage the public for comment on the proposal. The first will be tomorrow night at the Woodward Theater.

The session will build upon the idea proposed in the OTR Brewery District Master Plan, which called for the removal of a lane of traffic to add protected bicycle lanes in both directions. The UrbanCincy team recently discussed the proposal and found that while this is a good starting point, there is a larger opportunity for the street to spur more redevelopment along the corridor.

Our proposal eliminates one lane of traffic in each direction, but preserves the middle turn lane. A two-way contraflow protected bicycle lane would then be installed on the south side of the street. This leaves approximately 15 feet of unused street right-of-way.

This unused right-of-way could be returned to property owners on the south side of the street, thus narrowing the overall street by 15 feet. It would also increase the size of the southern properties which would increase their development potential and improve safety for pedestrians crossing the street. This would serve as particularly beneficial for small parcels such as those at the corner of Vine and Liberty or between Main and Sycamore.

This idea builds on the ideas put forward by Jeff Speck, who recently released a video on traffic calming and embraces modern street design standards that are found in the National Association of City Transportation Officials Street Design Manual.

The Liberty Street Safety Improvement Open House will take place at the Woodward Theater located at 1404 Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The session starts at 6pm and will last until 8pm. It is served by the #16, 17, 19 and 24 Metro bus routes, and is less than a block away from a Cincy Red Bike station.

Cincinnati Lags Milwaukee In Establishing Itself As Hub For Water Technology

Water’s importance, not only as a natural resource but as a driver of innovation and new technology, has been much-touted recently. While Cincinnati has hosted meetings and been pin-pointed as a national focus area for water innovation, impressive progress in this sector can be seen further north in Milwaukee.

Sitting on Lake Michigan, Milwaukee is a natural candidate for water innovation technology. As far back as 2006, a group of local business leaders created The Water Council with the intended goal of developing cooperation between the more than 100 water-related businesses and universities, government agencies, and other means of support.

Initiatives like B.R.E.W. (Business. Research. Entrepreneurship. In Wisconsin.) are among the many activities The Water Council supports.

Because of Milwaukee’s important water industry, those groups involved with The Water Council are creating the Water Technology District – intended to be a cluster and hub of innovation in the water industry. The city, looking to help The Water Council incubate water-related businesses in Milwaukee, has committed to developing the Reed Street Yards.

Dissected by the Menomonee River, the Reed Street Yards is a former rail yard, truck depot, and brownfield site in close proximity to downtown and with large amounts of available space for development.

The result has been the Global Water Technology Park.

Infrastructure within the park reflects the intentions of the involved organizations. The new public access road Freshwater Way, for example, is paved with PaveDrain, which is a water-friendly permeable surface. This permeable material was developed by a local company that now rents space in the business park. A special pipe system also helps pump recycled water to buildings to be used in non-potable functions like landscaping.

The city’s gamble on helping create this district seems to be paying off already: they recently attracted the global headquarters of a manufacturer of plumbing products focused on sustainability.

The Water Council’s headquarters is also in the business park, which houses university departments, startups, and other organizations. The space is 100% occupied and there are already concrete plans to open a second office.

Furthermore, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee now has the first graduate program in the country solely for freshwater research in their School of Freshwater Sciences; and they have since established a campus in the business park as well.

Extending beyond only water innovation and technology, the development around this sector has revitalized the local Walker’s Point neighborhood. Formerly highlighted by abandoned warehouses, the neighborhood has seen an increase in businesses and apartments.

Cincinnati, long-defined by the Ohio River, is an obvious candidate for similar development.

In March 2014, Cincinnati hosted the EPA’s Water Technology Innovation Cluster Meeting, the first gathering of its kind for national water-related groups and companies. Confluence, a local water-focused group representing Cincinnati, Dayton, Northern Kentucky, and Southeast Indiana, was present at the meeting.

And on November 12, the Woman’s City Club of Greater Cincinnati hosted an event to discuss how the region’s water technology resources can be better leveraged for innovation throughout the region. The meeting, called Liquid Gold: the Cincinnati ‘Water’ Technology Story, aimed to bring together the several clusters already focusing on this local asset; and featured local nonprofits, businesses, and other groups.

While these conferences show an interest in the topic, the region has thus far lacked a concerted effort on the part of local government, academia, and the private sector in advancing water innovation. Milwaukee has proven that this level of cooperation is needed to jump-start an industry that will continue to grow in importance (and employment) in the coming decades.

$3.3M Boone Block Redevelopment To Bolster Covington’s Resurgence

Last Friday city leaders gathered in Covington to celebrate the ground breaking for the $3.3 million Boone Block redevelopment project.

Located at 422 Scott Street, the project will result in the creation of nine single-family townhomes ranging from 2,185 square feet to 5,000 square feet in size.

City and project officials see the investment as part of a larger trend that is bringing new life to the heart of historic Northern Kentucky river city. In addition to this project, new commercial space, hotel rooms, residences and educational research space are all planned or in the process of construction in the nearby area.

The project is also evidence of the renewed interest in Cincinnati’s center city. While originally defined by the massive investment that took place in Downtown and then Over-the-Rhine, that investment and interest is now noticeably spreading outward to places like Covington, Mt. Auburn, Newport, Bellevue, Northside, Walnut Hills and the West End.

Project officials note that the Boone Block building was originally constructed in 1872 and still boasts many of its original architectural features. Each of the new residences, they say, will feature a modern interior finish with open floor plans, a gated courtyard, 14-foot ceilings, and an attached one-car parking garage.

So far the project team has pre-sold six of the units, which has provided some of the upfront project financing. In addition to that, the Catalytic Fund has provided mortgage gap financing and the City of Covington has provided a façade grant and development loan to the project.

Interested buyers for the final three available residences are instructed to contact either Rebecca Weber or Joy Amann at Huff Realty for additional information.

High Profile $35M Hyde Park Condo Building Officially Topped Out

The corner of Observatory and Shaw Avenues now looks much different than it did a year ago. Yesterday, development of 2770 Observatory, a 30-unit luxury condominium project by Greiwe Development officially topped out with a ceremony at the site. The project, which we reported on back in May of 2014, has transformed the corner with the demolition of several apartments that were formerly on the site.

At the ceremony, Mayor John Cranley (D) marked the occasion by proclaiming November 10 “Hyde Park Landmark Day,” recognizing the neighborhood’s historical charm, signature places and 2770 Observatory’s place as its newest landmark. The $35.5 million modern four-floor structure will stand as a gateway to the neighborhood with future residents just steps from Hyde Park Square.

With 16 of the 30 units pre-purchased, the development is expected to sell out before it opens in summer 2016.

Topping Out ceremonies are a Scandinavian custom dating back to 700 A.D. thought to bring good luck to future occupants. After remarks from project developer Rick Greiwe and Mayor Cranley, the event concluded with the traditional raising of an evergreen to the top of the building’s newly completed wooden framework.

2770 Observatory is the fifth Greiwe lifestyle development in the Cincinnati area since the grand opening of Mariemont’s Jordan Park in 2008. In October, Greiwe, with a group of developers known collectively as Gateway Partners LLC, was selected to develop a 12-acre site adjacent to downtown Montgomery, where he will build high-end condominiums as part of an urban in-fill village.

“We choose to build our projects in neighborhoods where dining, shopping and entertaining are within one block of the resident’s front door,” said Rick Greiwe, principal of Greiwe Development in a prepared statement, “Hyde Park Square is the ideal location for one of our developments. It’s in demand and draws people from around the whole city. I’ve been watching it for sometime — waiting for the ideal site to become available, and this is absolutely it.”

2770 Observatory features three bedroom and two bedroom units with large foyers and open entertaining areas. With 10-foot ceilings and 8-foot windows, the units range in size from 1,915 to 4,675 square feet. Each unit has its own balcony or patio. The building has an underground parking garage, and a resident pathway leads from Linshaw Court to Michigan Avenue and Hyde Park Square. Prices range from $700,000 to $2 million.