Opinion: Could Library Building Be Option for Public Radio Move?

If public libraries never existed in the United States their concept would baffle most people if proposed today: a 100% free and public space where tax dollars purchase and provide books, magazines, music, videos, technology, and other community services at zero cost to the individual. The public library has been a grand achievement in providing access to knowledge and services in this country, and the Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County is no exception.

Our local library system is the 3rd largest publicly run library in the country, and the 15th largest when including university library systems. It is also the largest public library run at the county level with Boston and New York running city level systems. For perspective, Hamilton County’s library holdings are 52% larger than Chicago’s and more than double that of Cleveland, Seattle, Miami, and the state of Hawaii’s systems.

Like most public libraries, Hamilton County’s has undergone dramatic changes in services offered in the past decades due to the explosion in digital media and internet resources. While libraries still contain substantial physical holdings, most new resources are digital and require less space.

The Main Library branch in downtown Cincinnati was expanded in the 1990’s with the construction of the North Building, as the South Building was too full to hold new books and physical materials. According to the Public Library Board, the changes experienced by libraries over the past decades have rendered the North Building’s space unnecessary for current usage. Their reports suggest that the South Building could accommodate what the North Building houses today.

In 2016 and early 2017, the Board considered selling the building and underlying land to reduce its footprint and provide funds for branch renovations countywide. The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation, better known as 3CDC, had been involved in advising potential futures for the building and the site. Protests followed this news, and the outcry pushed the Board to retain the property while finding new uses for the building.

This keeps the land public, alleviating concerns of those fearing a privatization of public assets in an era of dwindling public resources. To fund branch renovations the Board instead placed a 1-mill tax levy on the May 2018 ballot, which passed 63%-37%.

So what to do with the North Building? Aside from demolition the building, its redevelopment potential is restricted due to the high ceilings and massive floorplates which were necessary to hold the weight of hundreds of thousands of books.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati Public Radio (CPR), the license holder of WVXU, WMUB, and WGUC is looking to move. CPR’s current space in the CET Building and garage at 1223 Central Pkwy behind Music Hall has been rumored to be redeveloped in the near future, due to its proximity to the future FCC Stadium and the deteriorating condition of its public parking garage.

CPR has proposed siting its new facility near city hall, at 9th and Plum, a block that Indianapolis developer Milhaus has expressed interest in constructing apartments on since 2016.

Why fight over one parking lot when there are plenty of other options to pursue?

There is one option that would give CPR a new space and potentially satisfy the repositioning of the Library’s North Building: Move CPR to the North Building.

CPR needs large spaces for their studios and equipment, as well as office space. While they may not entirely fill the North Building, they could anchor a new era in the life of this critical public space in the region’s core. Ideas for the remaining space could include a museum on public radio and public libraries which could accompany CPR, as well as other public uses. There could be a news ticker that wraps around the building fronting on Vine and 9th Streets, giving updates to downtown residents, workers, and visitors.

As UrbanCincy previously explored, this area of downtown can be a reactivated with more residential housing. More residents help drive the vibrancy of the core and will help activate retail storefronts already in the area. Despite having city departments, Pure Romance, and other office users, retail activation still lags in this part of the neighborhood that has seen generations of demolition for parking.

A move to the North Building for CPR could potentially reactivate 9th street, be close the Cincinnati Streetcar and keep the space public. Likewise, continued residential development in the northwest quadrant of downtown will strengthen and reconnect that area of downtown to Over-the-Rhine and the new FC Cincinnati Stadium. Seems like this could be a win-win for everyone.

Walking Tours from ‘Urbanologist’ Max Grinnell Return to Cincinnati

Max Grinnell is an author, historian, and professor who excels at sharing unique perspectives of American cities. This June, he will return to Cincinnati to host a series of walking tours titled Out of the Past: Tales from the Federal Writers Guide to Cincinnati On Foot.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 10.57.51 AMThe walking tours are inspired by Cincinnati: A Guide to the Queen City and Its Neighbors, a book published in 1943 for the Federal Writers’ Project. This book was a part of the American Guide Series, also known as the WPA guides, which was a program funded by the New Deal to employ writers during the Great Depression. Today, the book serves as a snapshot of 1943 Cincinnati, when the city’s population was 455,610 and now-iconic structures like Carew Tower and Union Terminal were just a decade old.

This time period was “a bit of an ‘amber’ moment” in Cincinnati’s history, Grinnell told UrbanCincy, “as this was the Queen City at its industrial peak. I consider [Cincinnati’s WPA guide] one of the better city guides produced by the Federal Writers’ Project.”

This will be Grinnell’s forth time hosting a Cincinnati walking tour of this nature. Grinnell says he has refined the concept over the years, adding in even more historical context from other sources. “I’ve also done a bit more original research through local papers, business directories, and photograph archives from the University of Cincinnati,” Grinnell told UrbanCincy.

The 60-minute walking tours will take place on June 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Tickets are available for $15 per person at Grinnell’s website.

Awards Ceremony Set For Infill Designs in Over-the-Rhine

The Over-the-Rhine Foundation is hosting a design competition to test a proposed set of new infill guidelines for the Over-the-Rhine community. The OTR Design Competition Awards Ceremony and Celebration will take place on Friday, March 23rd from 5-8 PM. The event will announce the winner of a competition designed to evaluate proposed guidelines for new development in the revitalizing neighborhood.

Since 2014, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation’s Infill Committee has focused on advocating for contextually appropriate infill design to complement the neighborhood’s rich historic fabric. As part of this effort, the committee has worked to revise the outdated new construction guidelines for the Over-the-Rhine Historic District. The Foundation is currently hosting the OTR Design Competition to challenge the design community to elevate new construction in the district while testing the proposed guidelines. Twelve local and national architects and designers work to design a hypothetical new construction project in the Northern Liberties portion of OTR at 1716-18 Vine Street, north of Liberty Street.

The Design Competition will showcase ideas for this site on Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine. (Photo by Travis Estell)

The intent of the competition is to present designs that will elevate the standard for new construction in the neighborhood and city. Foundation members hope that the design guidelines would inspire other cities to look to Cincinnati when it comes to inspiring contemporary architecture in a historic setting.

Board President Kevin Pape stated in a media release that, “We are thrilled to see the final design submissions for the competition. This is an exciting opportunity for us to showcase the influence of excellent urban design on new construction in our historic neighborhood.”

Partners in the development of the revised guidelines include the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, City of Cincinnati Office of the Urban Conservator, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation, and Ohio History Connection.

Sponsors of the competition include the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, Cincinnati Preservation Association, 3CDC and the Niehoff Urban Studio.

The competition awards ceremony will take place at Union Hall’s 200-seat Beer Hall at 1311 Vine Street in Over-the-Rhine on Friday, March 23rd from 5:00PM-8: 00 PM. The presentation will begin at 6:00 pm. The ceremony is open to the public but RSVP‘s via Eventbrite is appreciated by Monday, March 19th. Complimentary beer and light snacks will be served with a suggested donation of $5.00. Donations can be made by paying to the order of ‘@OTRFoundation’ on Venmo or by cash or card at the event. 

The event is conveniently located along the Metro bus routes #46 and #78. It is a block away from the Northbound 12th and Vine and Southbound Race and Washington Park Cincinnati Bell Connector Streetcar stops. It is also located within a block from two Cincy RedBike bike share stations.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.

Design Competition to Test Neighborhood Infill Guide

Development in the city of Cincinnati and particularly in the basin can sometimes be heavily scrutinized. However, a new effort and design competition hosted by the Over-the-Rhine Foundation may prove to steer development of new construction projects.

Currently, the development process is complicated, often times involving many meetings with community councils, city staff and approvals and recommendations from certain boards and City Council.

That particular challenge has been felt most intensely in Over-the-Rhine, where developers, community leaders, and city officials are struggling to reach compromise over historic guidelines that have not been updated since 2003. For the past few years the OTR Foundation’s Infill Committee, established in 2013, has been working to address the challenges of infill design in this historic neighborhood. They are working with the city’s Historic Conservation Office to modernize the 15-year-old historic district guidelines. The goal of the update is to provide clear and comprehensive guideline language paired with illustrative graphics to assist in designing new construction that will enhance the long-term coherence of Over-the-Rhine and its desirability to both residents and visitors.

Part of that update is to test the new guidelines amongst the architectural and urban design community hosted by the Over-the-Rhine Foundation in conjunction with the proposed update to the New Construction Guidelines for the Over-the-Rhine Historic District.

The competition is open to the public. Participants are tasked with designing a new construction project, site, and exterior envelope only, at 1716-18 Vine Street following the proposed new construction guidelines, see the brief here.  Interested parties can pre-register by 1/20/18 at the following link. There is a registration fee of $15.00.

First, second, and third place cash prizes will be awarded and announced on March 23, 2018. The first place prize is $5,000.00. The competition team will host a kick-off question and answer event on Friday, January 26 at Graydon on Main, 1421 Main Street in OTR, from 5:00 to 7:00 PM.

Two public input sessions will be hosted to gather public input for the proposed guidelines by the Historic Conservation Office on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, at 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM. A location in OTR has yet to be determined.

Editors Note: Mr. Yung is a member of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation Board of Trustees.

Opinion: A Boulevard for Brent Spence Bridge Exit

Covington is in the midst of a redevelopment wave. A number of prominent historic buildings have recently been rehabbed and several large new mixed-use buildings are in the planning stages or under construction.

Two of the new projects, “Riverhaus” at 501 Main Street, and the John R. Green Lofts at 411 West 6th Street are scheduled to bring 369 new apartments into the Main Strasse neighborhood.  Census tract 603 covers most of the Main Strasse neighborhood and it shows 1,491 residents living there in 2015. Those two new projects will add a significant increase in the local residential population density.  Their ongoing progress reflects the demand for residential development in pedestrian-friendly urban spaces.

Part of Covington’s urban core that hasn’t seen any new residential development is the area north of 4th street between Madison Ave. and I-75.  Dubbed “Hamburger Heaven” in the city’s recent City Center Action plan, it contains multiple fast food restaurants, the sprawling one-story IRS center, and a sea of parking lots. Part of the reason the area hasn’t seen any development is that Covington’s 4th Street delivers 27,000+ cars per day to I-75. That much traffic is incompatible with pedestrian-friendly urban space.  

The City Center Action Plan makes redevelopment of the Hamburger Heaven and IRS sites a priority but it does not address the area’s inhospitable traffic. It’s a problem: How do you connect new development north of 4th street to the existing pedestrian-friendly urban fabric while maintaining all the traffic to the interstate?

The imminent closure of the IRS site presents an opportunity to address the problem. The 23-acre site covers 3-1/2 blocks of frontage on 4th street. Most of the remaining space adjacent to 4th street between the IRS site and I-75 consists of parking lots.

Once the IRS site is closed, the city of Covington should widen 4th street and convert it into a multiway boulevard.

A multiway boulevard consists of a series of central lanes to move through-traffic, side lanes with on-street parking to serve local vehicles and bicycles, and broad sidewalks to serve pedestrians. Tree-lined medians separate the local traffic from through-traffic, and trees on the sidewalk further separate pedestrians from traffic. Think of it as a “mixed-use street.” Because the street supports a different mix of uses – people, bicycles, transit, through traffic – it can more readily support mixed-use buildings at its edges. Mixed-use buildings add the density and diversity of uses that support pedestrian-friendly urban space.

San Francisco recently took an existing street and converted a portion of it into a new multiway boulevard. The creation of Octavia Boulevard was possible because an earthquake damaged a freeway and made it unusable. Instead of rebuilding the freeway, San Francisco added its right-of-way to a four-block stretch of Octavia Street, which became Octavia Boulevard.

Today, Octavia Boulevard moves 45,000 cars per day in two directions, it has side streets and broad sidewalks to serve local residents, and the creation of the street spurred new development on its edges. Octavia Boulevard sets a clear precedent for converting underutilized auto-oriented development into more productive mixed-use urban development. Octavia Boulevard is aesthetically pleasing, practical at moving traffic, and successful at promoting economic development.

To implement Covington’s “4th Street Boulevard Project” the street’s existing 50-foot right-of-way would be widened to the north to create a 100+ foot wide right-of-way.

The expanded right-of-way will accommodate the multiway boulevard’s additional lanes, medians, and sidewalks. Expanding the right-of-way will require part of the IRS parcel, a number of parking lots, and the demolition of a fast food chain restaurant.

Different design options could include making 4th street’s through lanes either one-way or two-way. A dedicated transit lane could be accommodated. Bicycles can share the local lanes with local vehicular traffic.  

Implementing the 4th Street Boulevard Project would have multiple effects that support the ongoing urban renaissance. The medians and parked cars provide protection for people to walk, eat, drink, and socialize outside. Trees also protect pedestrians and provide a canopy for shade and cooling. Bicycle use will be safe and easy. Converting 4th street from a single use – channeling cars to I-75 – into a multiway boulevard will facilitate the development of dense mixed-use buildings.

There’s a historic opportunity here. The IRS site was born out of federal urban renewal projects in the 1950s. Its time is now at an end.  The trend of the future is to live, work, and play in the urban core. The current traffic on 4th street is a barrier to urban development. Converting 4th street into a multi-way boulevard will support the traffic flow but mitigate its negative impacts. Recent examples provide good evidence.

If the ongoing urban development is to be sustained and space north of 4th street – just blocks away from the Ohio River – is to be put to its highest and best use, then the traffic along 4th street must be addressed. Converting 4th street into a multiway boulevard will do just that.


This is a guest editorial by Chris Meyer that originally appeared in the CNU Midwest blog. CNU and CNU Midwest are content partners with UrbanCincy.

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