PHOTOS: Cincinnati Bell Connector Gives 50,000 Rides Opening Weekend

The much-awaited Cincinnati Bell Connector opened to the public on Friday, September 9, and gave over 50,000 rides during its grand opening three-day weekend.

Councilwoman Amy Murray, who serves as Chair of the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee, hosted the grand opening ceremony at Washington Park. In addition to Murray, there were 12 speakers including current and former politicians, transit officials, and business leaders. Many of the speakers thanked the streetcar supporters who kept the project going over the years as it faced obstacle after obstacle. Several used the opportunity to call for an expansion of the system, with former mayor Mark Mallory saying that it’s not a question of “if,” but “when” and “where” the streetcar goes next.

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After the first five ceremonial rides, the Connector opened to the public around noon. It was free to ride all weekend thanks to donations from Believe in Cincinnati, streetcar manufacturer CAF, Cincinnati Bell, Fred Craig, the Haile Foundation, and Joseph Automotive Group. Each station was staffed with volunteers who helped inform riders about the how the system works, where it goes, and how to pay your fare after the start of revenue service. Additionally, a number of special events and activities took place place near each of the streetcar stations, ranging from DJs to ballet dancers to sidewalk chalk artists. Many businesses along the route offered special streetcar-themed food, drinks, and merchandise.

The system initially opened with four out of the five streetcars in service, but the fifth was put into service around 4 p.m. on Friday and all five continued to operate for the remainder of the weekend. The system operated at nearly maximum capacity all weekend, with lines of people waiting to board at each station.

Unfortunately, the system was forced to close on Saturday afternoon due to a bomb threat. The threat, which appears to be connected to similar threats made over the weekend at the Cincinnati Zoo and two local high school football games, was not believed to be credible, but the system was closed down as a precautionary measure. After a bomb-sniffing dog searched all five streetcars and found nothing, they were put back in to service.

Despite this setback, the system transported passengers on 18,141 trips on Friday, 17,160 on Saturday, and 15,345 on Sunday, for a grand total of 50,646 trips during the grand opening.

After the free weekend, revenue service began Monday morning on the Cincinnati Bell Connector. The fare is $1 for a two-hour pass, or $2 for an all-day pass. No streetcar-specific monthly pass is available, but a monthly Metro pass includes rides on the streetcar as well as Metro buses. Tickets can be purchased at kiosks at each station, or using the Cincy EZRide app which is now available in the iOS App Store and Google Play.

Brink Brewing Aiming to Settle Into Cincinnati’s Resurgent College Hill Neighborhood

The groundbreaking for the $11.1 million Marlowe Court development in College Hill shined new light on west side neighborhood, but the influx of new investment in the neighborhood’s walkable neighborhood business district has been growing for some time.

One of the next large investments will come in the form of a new brewery called Brink Brewing. While Brink is part of a larger craft beer movement that has been surging for years, it is part of a younger craft beer culture on the city’s west side; and the owners are hoping to tap into that otherwise untapped market.

“First and foremost we are aiming to serve beer lovers in and around the College Hill neighborhood,” John McGarry, marketing and design manager for Brink Brewing, told UrbanCincy. “Our sights are squarely focused on being a neighborhood-oriented tap room.”

While the Brink Brewing ownership, which includes four young couples, does not have any previous ties to College Hill, McGarry says that they were drawn to the neighborhood after discovering the passion of its residents and business owners. The walkable character of the neighborhood business district also made it an ideal choice for the Brink Brewing team.

“College Hill wasn’t part of our initial search, but as soon as we discovered it we fell in love,” said McGarry. “The stretch of Hamilton Avenue where we’ll be located is a walkable strip of small businesses with a proud past and a bright future. We met some of the other business owners there like Marty at Marty’s Hops & Vines and Megan at Fern and knew right away we should be paying attention.”

When asked about whether or not the local beer market is becoming over-saturated, he said that Brink Brewing is going after a different segment than what many other brewers are aiming for. Rather than trying to grow production and fight for tap and shelf space throughout the region, they are planning to settle into the neighborhood and serve it with high quality beer.

“From my perspective, I think brewery/taprooms are still a fairly new concept in Cincinnati. Places like Denver, Portland, and San Diego have shown that small, neighborhood focused breweries can really thrive and be a great addition to the community,” McGarry explained. “I think of brewery tap rooms much like local coffee shops, and you never hear anyone say that there are too many of those.”

Construction work is underway on transforming the 3,200-square-foot space, which will be complimented by a large outdoor patio space behind the building. After accounting for the space that will be needed for production, there should be enough room left over to accommodate 100 guests at any given time.

The amount of construction work taking place inside the 90-year-old structure is extensive. In addition to the resurfacing the front of the building through a façade improvement grant from the College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, the interior has been completely rehabbed.

As part of the façade improvements, Brink Brewing will add a large commercial garage doors onto the front and back of the building to allow for the wall to open up on nice weather days – hopefully inviting more people from the neighborhood inside.

When it comes to the beer, McGarry says that the brewery will produce a range including pale ale, IPA, brown and stout beers. They will also serve some higher gravity and experimental beers, but will maintain a focus on core products.

“We will incorporate infusions and experimentations into some of our offerings, but we also recognize that the pendulum has swung a little too far into the exotic recently,” explained Kelly Montgomery, head brewer at Brink Brewing. “By frequently rotating our menu we feel there will always be something new to try along with the staples that have elevated craft beer.”

Since each of the young couples has young children, they say that they also hope the establishment will be family friendly. In order to help create this atmosphere, Brink Brewing will have a community table area and will even offer juice boxes, free wi-fi and board games.

The ownership group has signed a five-year lease on the space, which can be extended an additional 10 years. If all goes well, the team hopes that they can stay in the space for the long-haul.

“We want to be a part of revival of the Cincinnati beer tradition and become a part of the fabric of the neighborhood,” McGarry concluded. “We think our model of a modest-sized brewery and comfortable tap room to hang out in will allow us to do just that.”

Brink Brewing should open to the public sometime in November, and employ some 15 to 20 people within the next year or so.

PHOTOS: $30M Renovation of Historic YMCA Building Now Complete

Following a year-and-a-half renovation process, the historic Central Parkway YMCA reopened last month, and leaders at Episcopal Retirement Homes, the company overseeing the residential portion of the project, have recently welcomed the project’s first residents.

The $30 million project overhauled the entire 123,000-square-foot structure and was undertaken by Model Group. The upgraded YMCA includes a new saline lap pool, all new equipment, and expanded class offerings. Officials hope the renovated club attracts 1,600 members by the end of the year and eventually reaches 2,000 members.

The building’s upper six floors include 65 residences for seniors, providing much-needed affordable housing in the heart of the center city. A similar partnership has been tried before with the Parkview Place project in Anderson, Indiana, which also consists of affordable senior apartments located above an historic YMCA.

Nearby, scores of multi-million dollar development projects are underway that will add dozens of hotel rooms, hundreds of residents, and tens of thousands of square feet of commercial office and retail space. Such changes are expected to both raise rents and further increase the desirability of Over-the-Rhine, Downtown and the nearby West End neighborhood.

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Public Library Preparing Weekend of Themed Events for Streetcar Grand Opening

Large crowds are expected to descend upon Cincinnati’s center city for the grand opening of what is now being called the Cincinnati Bell Connector following a $3.4 million, 10-year naming rights agreement with the telecommunications company.

Grand opening ceremonies are planned for Friday, September 9 in front of Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine, but special events are planned throughout the entire weekend. The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, which has its main branch located along the Cincinnati Bell Connector’s first phase, is getting in on the festivities with a weekend of its own programming.

On Friday, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will host a special exhibit opening for Cincinnati Transportation: Past, Present and Future at 4pm inside the Main Library’s Reading Garden Lounge. Library officials say that the exhibit is free and open to the public, and will stay on display until January 9, 2017 in the library’s Atrium space.

Then, on Saturday, Patricia Van Skaik, the library’s Genealogy & Local History Department Manager, will host a discussion about the lives of Cincinnati’s early streetcar workers. Family Affair: Cincinnati’s Early Streetcar Drivers, Conductors and Mechanics will start at 1pm.

To close out the weekend of themed events, Moving Cincinnati: A History of Trolleys, Cable Cars, Inclines and Streetcars will take place at 2pm. This event will feature a lecture from local historian and author, Robert J. Wimberg, about the transportation history of Cincinnati.

Library officials are particularly engaged with the opening events due to their prominent located along the starter line. In fact, one of the Cincinnati Bell Connector’s stations is located immediately outside of the Main Library at the northwest corner of Eighth and Walnut Streets.

The Cincinnati Bell Connector is the first modern streetcar system of its kind in this region of the country; and it represents a return of surface running rail transit to Cincinnati’s streets after a 65-year absence.

Cincinnati Bell Connector Makes Its Debut With New Branding Scheme

Local transit officials on Tuesday rolled out the first vehicle to bear the colors of the new branding scheme for the Cincinnati Bell Connector. Naming rights for the local rail transit system, formerly known as the Cincinnati Streetcar, have been purchased by Cincinnati Bell.

Under the sponsorship contract, the communications company has agreed to pay $340,000 per year for the next decade. The funding will be used to help cover costs for streetcar operations.

The new graphic scheme for the transit vehicles features the blue and green colors of Cincinnati Bell on the ends of the cars, and above the windows. While some remnants of the original branding scheme remain, the burnt orange color that had become synonymous with the streetcar will entirely go away in time for the system’s opening.

The new branding will be used throughout the system, including on the website, on all printed materials, and on support vehicles. Stations will be rebranded as Cincinnati Bell Connector stations; and several stations already have new signage reflecting the change.

After a photo session for the media, the vehicle departed along Race Street to start regular operations for the day. All five streetcars will display the new branding by the start of regular service on September 9.