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.

Venture Aims to Bring Passive Houses to Cincinnati

Recently UrbanCincy contributor Timothy Broderick sat down with Ronald Vieira, founder of PassivHaus — a venture designed to shake up the region’s building industry by dramatically reducing buildings’ energy expenditures to discuss building Passive Houses in the Cincinnati region. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Who are you?

My name is Ronald Vieira. Graduated from Xavier class of 2016. Born and raised in Valencia, Venezuela, but Cincinnati is my hometown. I like that I come from here.

What’s your job?

I am doing research to figure out how to decrease the extra payment people have to pay to build a passive house (PH). And that research consists in building the first PH in Cincinnati. There are a few PHs in construction in Cincinnati currently, but none of them have been certified yet.

What’s a passive house?

A PH is a building standard, a series of building standards that, if followed properly, you will reduce up to 90% of your heating load of your house, building, whatever your facility is. Overall it reduces up to 75% of your overall energy consumption.

How does it achieve such efficiency?

The main principle is super insulation — or as they call it, continuous insulation — because the idea is to isolate as well as we can the inside temperature of the house from the outside environment. Whether the outside is hot or cold or mild or humid or not it’s just to preserve the indoor environment to the best of the indoor’s ability.

So you’re basically creating a very stabilized climate?

Mhmm. A good analogy is your skin, which are your “walls.” To stay warm when you go outdoors, you put a jacket on. Similarly, when you’re building a house, the plywood is the skeleton of the house and then you build another exterior wall and put a lot of isolating material, like foam, and then that’s your newer, thicker wall.

Then you look where house is more prone to exchange air with the outside, which is windows and doors. You have to have really high-efficiency building doors and windows. Twenty years ago, new houses had single pane windows. Now the standard is double paned windows, and for PHs the standard is triple-paned windows.

How do you keep the air from getting stale/moldy?

Since you basically don’t have any communication from inside air to outside air, the filtration system for a passive house is a little different. This is an add-on equipment that you put on top of your furnace which cleans the air and filters it way more than a standard house. A high-quality filter is super important to a PH because it is airtight and needs better quality air while still using a lot less energy.

The way you put it it sounds like this cool thing that everyone should be doing, but it can’t be that simple. What are the biggest barriers to wider implementation?

Let’s start with the cost, which is the easiest to explain. You need more material — two walls + filler, for example. Another cost driver is the talent to design these buildings. There were only a handful of certified PH buildings in the US in 2009. The materials and the talent sums up to a 10 to 20% more cost. Now, this is all weather sensitive. The larger the building is, and the colder the climate is, the less expensive it’s going to be. It’s easier to keep it cool in the summer. When I did market research in Cincinnati, I found that we won’t need to go over the 10% premium. This is the promise of my company in the first three years. Then, we are going to figure out how to build these houses at 0% extra at the end of the third year.

The second barrier is the learning curve. These houses use new material and new ideas that most builders and architects don’t know. However, if you have the same group of people who are building the first house and then the second house and the third, they will quickly learn the process. That’s what I’m going to do.

You, yourself, are still learning how to build a PH. How will you build the first one?

You just need a PH consultant, which is not hard to get. Paul Yankee is my mentor on PH design, and he is the owner and CFO of Green Buildings Consultants. He has been advising since Day 1.

Are you going to get certified?

Yes, not as a designer but as a builder. But my architects will be certified.

What’s your motivation behind this work?

Typically, I think a little bit more in the bigger picture than the smaller picture. When I graduated college, I wanted to do something that will significantly impact the life of people in the world. That’s where everything starts.

Why climate change and not global poverty or something like that?

I think it was the education I received. Venezuela is a developing country, so my mom’s side is very poor. All my life I had very personal contact with extreme poverty. I felt like I was more qualified to tackle a systemic, non-social challenge than a social challenge. Plus, climate change is science, and my first three years at Xavier were chemistry.

So climate change, turns out the largest emitter [in the United States] is residential living. Why aren’t people doing anything about this? That’s when the research starts: how do I get people to generate energy in a greener way, or how do I get these people to use their energy in more wisely.

This has to do with energy efficiency and energy generation. Energy generation is far more complex, and my technical ability is not there at all. But my ability to find out how to build buildings in a way that keeps energy and consumes a lot less energy — ok, now I can do that. Doing research on home energy efficiency is how I stumbled upon PHs.

Is this only for rich suburbanites? Can you build something in the city?

No. I’m currently looking at a lot close to downtown. Furthermore, anything and everything can be built passive. You can use any particular architecture style whether it is contemporary, whether it is a bungalow, whether it is classical, or civil war era. You can have any type of architecture built to PH principles.

Now what you’re getting at, renovating houses like in Over-the-Rhine, that’s the next big challenge for PH builders. It is possible, but it is just another design challenge because you have to deal with existing structures. For historic buildings, specifically those in OTR, those are going to have more aesthetic and cost challenges.

What’s your short-term goals?

The official mission is to accelerate the adaptation process of PH principles to home residential construction. And then we’ll send segue into commercial, and that means mixed, urban living. I have a particular affinity for urban spaces. I am from the most inner city you can ever be in Valencia. So that’s all I know, basically.

Endgame?

Getting a large organization — like 3CDC — in charge of redeveloping a lot of buildings, getting in with them — that’s the goal. But all my energy right now is focused on building that first house. Nothing more. Who knows from there.

If you’re interested in building your own passive house, visit Ronald’s website or shoot him an email at vieirarxu@gmail.com.

PHOTOS: Downtown Construction Boom Underway

With well over $2 billion in new construction projects underway in Cincinnati’s urban core it is not hard to miss with construction fencing, cranes and lifts working at full tilt all over downtown and Over the Rhine. Many new construction and building renovations are underway throughout downtown and Over-the-Rhine. This gallery features photos of 16 projects taken this month. If added up the projects in the photos below are just a fraction of overall development with just over $400 million in construction activity.

 

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Cincinnati Neighborhood Wins Major Preservation Award

In 2006, Over-the-Rhine was listed as one of America’s Most Endangered Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Today that very same neighborhood is celebrated as a tale of monumental historic revitalization and revival. That effort was honored yesterday at an awards ceremony in Washington D.C.

At a reception that is part of National Historic Preservation Advocacy Week, representatives from the City of Cincinnati’s Zoning Department, Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) and the Over-the-Rhine Foundation were presented with the “Preservation’s Best” of 2016 award by the group.

The event is sponsored by Preservation Action, American Institute of Architects, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Trust Community Investment Corporation, Unico, Inc., and Center for Community Progress and aims to highlight significant projects developed through federal incentives such as Historic Tax Credits.

“Through federal incentives like the Historic Tax Credit, historic preservation drives economic development and community revitalization across the nation by taking historically significant buildings that are dated and abandoned and turning them into viable community assets for a 21st century economy.” spokesperson Rob Naylor said in a statement.

On hand from Cincinnati to receive the award was Kevin Pape of the Over-the-Rhine Foundation, Zoning Administrator Matt Shad and Historic Conservator Beth Johnson from the city. West side Congressman Steve Chabot (R) also attended.

Naylor stated that the award, “highlights exemplary Historic Tax Credit projects that revitalize our cities and small towns and breathe new life into our communities. At a time when the future of the Historic Tax Credit is uncertain, these projects help to highlight the impact the program has had in communities across the country.”

Since 1981, federal tax credits have helped save over 377 buildings in Over-the-Rhine for a total of $267 million dollars. Despite losing 50% of its housing stock since the 1930’s the neighborhood is still considered the largest collection of 19th century Italianate architecture in the country and has been regarded  as “the coolest neighborhood in America.

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

New Development Adds Affordable Housing, Restaurant to Over-the-Rhine

Another development is coming to the Brewery District. The Historic Conservation Board approved a zoning variance that will bring fifty affordable housing units and a restaurant to several vacant buildings along the streetcar line.

Affordable housing in Over-the-Rhine (OTR) has received a lot of press recently. Freeport Row, the newly-christened Source 3 development at Liberty and Elm, was heavily criticized because it lacked any affordable housing. Most recent development has been market-rate or luxury apartments, despite the fact that OTR’s average median income was $14,517 in the 2010 census.

The fears aren’t unfounded; the neighborhood has lost affordable housing. Xavier Community Business Institute determined that OTR and Pendleton have lost 2,300 affordable housing units since 2002. This project — called Abington Flats — will help replenish that stock. Three different companies banded together to create Abington: 3CDC, Model Group, and Cornerstone Corporation Renter Equity. 3CDC is developing the commercial space, while the other two control the residential space. This project is part of a larger effort by the team to develop hundreds of affordable units in OTR.

Abington Flats consists of five buildings, the largest of which is 33 Green Street. Built in 1910, the four-story building features a commercial space on the ground floor with three floors of residential apartments above. Model Group Senior Project Manager Jennifer Walke said that all five buildings need “substantial rehab.” 33 Green Street will be 100 percent ADA accessible. The team is shooting for LEED Silver certification.

In an email to UrbanCincy, 3CDC Communications Manager Joe Rudemiller said that, depending on future tenants’ needs, there will be up to four retail or office space and up to two restaurants or bars.

Finding a restaurant or bar will be key to the project’s long-term financial viability. Tax credits fund a building’s development and construction; they don’t cover operating costs. Rent from below market-rate units might not cover its full cost. Rent paid by commercial tenants offsets this difference.

This is why investors rarely back affordable housing projects. It’s hard to profit. Plus, tenants with less financial security pose a greater risk to the owners. Cornerstone’s shared equity program strives to overcome this trend. Tenants can earn equity through timely rent payments and property maintenance. Build up enough equity and — after five years — it becomes cash. Abington Flats will use their system.

Total costs hover around $17 million — $13.8 million for the residential portion and $3 million for the commercial space. Several subsidies fueled the development, including Federal and State Historic Tax Credits and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.