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.

Mechanical Optimizers Aiming to Help Area Nonprofits Assess, Update Facilities

Local contracting companies, from air conditioners to electricians, have teamed up to form a group called Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits with the upkeep of their operations.

The newly formed group creates, for the first time, a single point of contact for an audit of a nonprofit’s building’s situation and help with the budgeting and finding grants and funds for the project. All of this, remarkably, is done free of charge for the area’s churches, mosques and many other private institutions.

Jeff Wilmink, an executive at Century Mechanical Solutions since 2012, said that he noticed an acute need for long-term strategies for local nonprofits to maintain their buildings. He told UrbanCincy that he saw institutions were not spending money on proper upkeep and were repairing things that long needed to be replaced. With no master plan for how/what to fix, these nonprofits were putting band-aids on visible problems while invisible problems were compounding, thus creating crisis situations that cost much more money to fix.

With this in mind, he created Mechanical Optimizers to help local nonprofits be proactive and find funds to proactively tackle such projects. When I asked Jeff whether there was a light-bulb moment for this idea to come about, he told me of a call he received from the pastor at St. Louis Church downtown.

The pastor, he said, called because of a noise coming from the basement. After traversing an old, narrow stairway with limited access and even more limited use, Wilmink’s team found an ancient boiler that was leaking, and a basement covered in asbestos. The emergency fix needed for St. Louis Church ended up being much more costly than it would have otherwise been if fixed sooner.

There is not much blame to lay, either. Leaders of nonprofit organizations often do not know or understand the mechanical problems going on in their buildings and, therefore, do not know to fix it. In addition, technicians will often solve superficial problems that create short-term fixes, but neither party tends to think about what will need to be done in a year, five years or ten years.

Add this to the tight budgets of local nonprofits, and many cruise from emergency to emergency without ever fixing the underlying problems in their aging buildings.

“It’s irritating that we’ve allowed these buildings to get in the condition they’re in,” said Wilmink. He continued by saying that many institutions will spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic fixes while the mechanics of their building are literally rotting; or spend $25,000 every other year to fix a unit in order to save $75,000 upfront.

Mechanical Optimizers comes into the equation by offering to provide a free assessment of a nonprofit’s building. Then, after telling “the blunt truth” about what it will take to fix it right, Wilmink and his team will help locate grants and create a budget for fixing the problem and updating aged equipment.

The goal is to be smarter about maintaining a building’s mechanical systems so that high-priced emergency projects do not emerge later. Furthermore, Wilmink says that the very nature of these buildings – churches, mosques, markets, etc. – means finding funds can often be easier once the problem is identified, because someone is typically willing to step up and donate money to help out.

There is, as you might suspect, more to it for Mechanical Optimizers than the charitable work. Once they complete their free assessment, Wilmink says that they will often times submit a bid to perform the work like they would for any other project. Essentially, Mechanical Optimizers has found a way to combine charitable work with their daily business operations. At the same time, this “no agenda” charity is helping many local nonprofits save thousands of dollars.

One of the biggest savings that nonprofits typically receive comes from technology and equipment that can replace outdated systems with ultra-efficient units.

When asked about how government policies help or hinder his efforts, Wilmink pointed to a recent program in New Jersey where the state will pay 80% of the costs for upgrading systems and improving efficiency. The money for the program, he explained, comes from funds utility companies there are mandated to set aside for the state to use for such purposes.

In addition to St. Louis Catholic Church, Wilmink says that Mechanical Optimizers has worked on Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Findlay Market, the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, and a slew of other buildings throughout the region.

Pointing to the work’s importance, the contractors involved with the group say that they will do whatever it takes to offer up their help and get the project done.

“If you want our help, we’ll find a way to make it happen.”

Nine Giant Brewing to Open in Heart of Pleasant Ridge Business District

Nine Giant Brewing has signed a lease at the corner of Montgomery Road and Ridge Avenue in the heart of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood business district. The announcement comes years after community leaders celebrated the formal establishment of a Community Entertainment District for the area.

According to Urban Fast Forward, the agency in charge of leasing at the site, the signing is part of a larger redevelopment effort called Sixty99, which is being spearheaded by Gene Levental, and will eventually include more than $350,000 worth of upgrades to the 87-year-old building.

According to Blake Bartley, Urban Fast Forward’s leasing agent for the project, Sixty99 includes several yet-to-be-leased commercial spaces. In addition to Nine Giant Brewing, however, A Salon Named Desire is currently located on the building’s second floor.

The Nine Giant Brewing micro-brewpub, Bartley says, will take up 3,413 square feet of space along Montgomery Road and is being spearheaded by Brandon Hughes and Michael Albarella.

Perhaps surprisingly, the announcement comes years after the CED was announced for Pleasant Ridge; but with increasing investment throughout a variety of Cincinnati’s neighborhood business districts, this deal appears to be capitalizing on growing momentum in the city. As a result, community leaders in Pleasant Ridge believe this might spark more business openings in the future – something that would be buoyed by the fact that several liquor licenses remain as part of the Pleasant Ridge CED.

“Nine Giant is a great addition to Pleasant Ridge and the Sixty99 development and provides the neighborhood with a true entertainment destination,” Bartley told UrbanCincy. “This is a huge first step for what is going to be a thriving entertainment district at Sixty99.”

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.

Are Aaron Betsky and his architecture contemporaries ‘out of touch’ with society?

As we all know by now, most architecture today is pure shit. Well, a recent piece by the architecture critiques at The New York Times that says contemporary architects are largely out of touch with society didn’t sit well with architecture power broker Aaron Betsky.

In a response piece to Betsky’s commentary on the matter, Forbes published a piece from Justin Shubow, President of the National Civic Art Society and author of The Gehry Towers over Eisenhower, panning the former outspoken director of  the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Betsky rained down on Bingler and Pedersen with ridicule and scorn: Their piece was “so pointless and riddled with clichés as to beggar comprehension.” He summarized their position: “we have three of the standard criticisms of buildings designed by architects: first, they are ugly according to what the piece’s authors perceive as some sort of widely-held community standard (or at least according to some 88-year old ladies); second, they are built without consultation; third they don’t work.”

Yet Betsky then admitted, “All those critiques might be true.” They are irrelevant, he claims, since architecture must be about experimentation and the shock of the new. (Why this should be the case he does not say.) And sometimes designers must stretch technology to the breaking (or leaking) point: “The fact that buildings look strange to some people, and that roofs sometimes leak, is part and parcel of the research and development aspect of the design discipline.” Ever brave, he is willing to let others suffer for his art.

At no point did Betsky consider the actual human beings, the unwilling guinea pigs who live in the houses. He implicitly says of the poor residents: Do their roofs leak? Let them buy buckets. And as for sickness-inducing mold, there’s Obamacare for that. Betsky also does not consider what a leaky roof means to people whose prior homes were destroyed by water. The architects, having completed their noble experiments, effectively say like the arrogant King Louis XV of France: “Après moi, le deluge” [After me, the flood]. No wonder architects have an image problem.