PHOTOS: The Changing Face of Downtown Cincinnati

It’s not just housing that’s booming in the center city, there is also a slew of office, retail, hotel and infrastructure projects underway that are transforming Cincinnati’s skyline and its streetscapes.

All of the construction activity makes it feel as if there is work taking place in just about every corner of the central business district and its immediate surroundings. And for the most part, that feeling is valid.

In addition to the thousands of residential units under construction, work is also currently underway on the second phase of The Banks, which will include not only 300 additional apartments, but also General Electric’s new North American Global Operations Center, 313-room Renaissance Hotel, dunnhumbyUSA Centre, Mabley Place, reconstruction of Second Street, and work is about to get underway for the new 115-room Holiday Inn hotel at Seventh and Broadway Streets.

In addition to all of the construction work taking place, the weather earlier this month was terrific and made for a perfect time to take pictures of some of the center city’s beauty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 22 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy between July 2 and July 9, 2014.

PHOTOS: Construction Progressing on Thousands of New Downtown Residences

Six months ago, we reported on 11 residential developments moving forward in the Central Business District, Over-the-Rhine, and Pendleton. At the time, these were expected to add about 1,500 new units of housing to the urban core. Although one of these projects has been downsized and another postponed, one new residential project was announced as well.

Most notably, the proposed tower at Fourth and Race was downsized from 300 to 200 units, and the grocery store that would have been located on the ground floor of the building has been dropped from the plan.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) is also shelving its plans for a new mixed-use project at 15th and Race, which would have added 57 residential units. However, 3CDC is also shelving its plan to build 53,000 square feet of office space as part of the third phase of Mercer Commons, and is considering building more residential at that location. The first two phases of Mercer Commons contain 126 apartments and 28 condos in addition to retail space.

Finally, the proposal to bring an AC Hotel to the former School for the Creative & Performing Arts (SCPA) in Pendleton has been scrapped. Developers are now moving forward with an alternate plan, which will convert the building into 155 market-rate apartments.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The other projects still moving forward include:

  • Phase two of The Banks broke ground in April 2014. It will contain 305 new apartments and 21,000 square feet of retail space, in addition to a new office tower for General Electric.
  • AT580, formerly known as the 580 Building, is being converted from office space into 179 apartments. The existing retail spaces on the first and second floors will remain.
  • The Seven at Broadway project will feature 110 high-end apartments, built above an existing parking garage. The target demographic for these units will be empty-nesters and older professionals looking for downtown living, according to Rick Kimbler, partner at the NorthPointe Group.
  • Broadway Square, a $26 million development, is now under construction in Pendleton. Its first phase will feature 39 apartments and 40,000 square feet of retail space, and developer Model Group will add at least another 39 apartments in the second phase of the project.
  • The Schwartz Building, formerly vacant office space, is being converted into 20 apartments. Developer Levine Properties cited the building’s location along the Cincinnati Streetcar route as a driving factor for the renovation.
  • The Ingalls Building will be redeveloped into 40 to 50 condos and ground-floor retail space by the Claremont Group.
  • Peak Property Group plans to purchase and renovate three buildings on Seventh Street into 75 apartments and 15,000 square feet of retail space.
  • Developers of the Fountain Place retail building want to add 180 to 225 residential units above the existing Macy’s department store.

EDITORIAL NOTE: All 12 photos were taken by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy between July 3 and July 8, 2014.

No, Historic Preservation Does Not Inhibit Urban Growth

While the development boom being experienced in New York City, Paris and London isn’t quite the same in Cincinnati, the Queen City does share in some of these issues surrounding historic preservation. Some believe that protecting and preserving historic structures is a barrier for development.

This has been seen most recently in the easy approval of the updated Lytle Park Historic District boundary, which is now much smaller than it once was. The reason such changes received easy approval at City Hall is because of the promise of new development, but is that the correct way to think about it? More from Next City:

American preservationists, too, have become so accustomed to pushing for the enforcement of preservation laws that they often are stereotyped as gatekeepers of nostalgia. Those who fought New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan for upzoning part of Midtown Manhattan were demonized as anti-development. In truth, they were trying to protect the existing development. Polyphonic streetscapes of buildings of varying heights, styles and forms blended with smart new design attract people.

[...]

Preservationists are mediators between cultural heritage and economic demands, and they often don’t win what they want. The rambling mass of buildings joined under La Samaritaine’s walls and the stately mass of Cleveland’s Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist are far from evident in the remaining fragments. Yet what has actually been saved in both cases is invisible: the integrity of preservation laws, the enhanced value of developments that incorporate elements of the past and the continuity of urban character that makes cities continue to be desirable places. Years later, no one will see the battle scars from these fights, but they will see interesting works of contemporary architecture based on historic elements, thanks to preservation activists fighting overbearing design.

New Apartments, Retail Space Coming to Peeble’s Corner in Walnut Hills

You hear a lot about the significance of creating a critical mass when it comes to changing perceptions or establishing a new hub of activity in a neighborhood. That is exactly what Kent Hardman is aiming to do at Walnut Hills’ famed Peeble’s Corner.

Hardman, as you may or may not know, is a local real estate investor that has previously redeveloped the Jackson Theater on Eastern Avenue in Columbia Tusculum. He is also finishing up work on a historic firehouse at 773 E. McMillan Stree in Walnut Hills, which will not only house Fireside Pizza, but also his home.

“I walked in the first time, about a year-and-a-half ago, and thought that I had to bring this building back to life,” Hardman explained. “I’ve always dreamed of one day living in a firehouse.”

Hardman will move into his new 1,650-square-foot apartment in the Samuel Hannaford-designed firehouse at the end of this month, and he expects he will be joined shortly thereafter by Fireside Pizza in early July. He says that he likes to focus on old buildings that are shells where he can build new on the inside.

In the case of the 134-year-old Firehouse Row buildings, that was exactly what he had. In fact, the buildings were in such poor shape when Hardman purchased them from the City of Cincinnati for $1, that one of the two, known as the Hamilton House, had a tree growing through the middle of it.

Since acquiring the properties, the Miami University graduate has invested around $450,000 into the city’s oldest standing firehouse, including $100,000 in the form of a forgivable loan from the City.

As work wraps up later this month on that building, work will then begin next door on the Hamilton House. Hardman expects that he will invest another $550,000 into that property, which he is hoping will be offset by some gap financing from the City.

“It’s amazing what can happen to a property when it’s abandoned and left to die,” Hardman recalled. “The whole goal here is to create a concentrated effort, like what 3CDC has done in Over-the-Rhine, and reach that critical mass in Walnut Hills.”

Later in the year, he hopes to begin work on restoring two more buildings across the street, which is expected to cost around $1 million. In total, this second wave of work will create a dozen apartment units, ranging in size from one to two bedroom units, and two new storefronts. This next phase of redevelopment, however, is contingent upon pending gap financing from the City of Cincinnati.

Developing a critical mass is seen as critical for the ongoing revitalization of Peeble’s Corner. According to neighborhood leaders, the redevelopment of this block is the foundation for what they hope will be a larger turnaround for the business district.

“Over the last couple of years, while strategically purchasing key blighted properties, we realized that we needed to identify a small portion of the business district as an initial focus area,” said Kevin Wright, Executive Director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation. “This is that area.”

Once the rest of the financing is secured for the rehabilitation of the 114-year-old properties, located at 772 E. McMillan and 2504 Chatham, it is expected that construction work will take approximately four months to complete.

The hopes are that these restored street-level retail spaces can become additional restaurants, grocery options, cafes, clothing shops and bars, as residents have recently indicated as their top preferences for the area. Wright also says that some capital investments will be needed in the near future, but is confident that the area is moving in the right direction.

“There are some wonderful historic buildings on this block, a safe public parking lot, an office building that is fully leased and expanding, as well as the Five Points alley systems,” Wright explained. “We believe this block can and will begin bringing Peeble’s Corner back to life.”

GUEST EDITORIAL: The Mathematics of Urbanity

There are many ways by which you can measure progress but there’s nothing like defining urbanity to put into perspective just how far along societies has come. Urbanity, after all, encompasses everything modern and progressive, the leaps and bounds that humankind has made through the years to essentially live better.

It’s in the trends of condos and high buildings. It’s in the gadgets and devices you carry around. It’s in the very air you breathe. Different people have different needs but it cannot be denied that everyone benefits from urbanity at some point or another.

That condo you’re living in? That’s a result of urbanity. As well as your favorite coffee shop and the latest flick they’re showing in a cinema near you. It’s around you and will continue to persist for as long as an individual interested in improving how one lives exists.

Defining Urbanity
What is urbanity? At the heart of it all, it is basically the refinement of experiences. If you think about it, anything urban is simply the better version of something else in a rural setting. If you think about living conditions, for instance, you’ll see a fine example in condo living.

Where living in a condominium can be considered as the pinnacle of comfort, luxury, and convenience in an urban area, the rural end of the spectra will show housing options of drastically lower quality. There is urbanity where there are jobs. There is urbanity where commercial structures abound. There is urbanity where modern living is applied. It is usually associated with large cities because their massive economic strength makes it possible for urbanity to thrive. It also usually paints a picture of glass and metal, starting full of promise but eventually fading into a backdrop of smog and gray skies.

Urbanity represents the good, the bad, and the ugly about progress. Identifying the bad and the ugly seems to be foreboding but this does not mean that all things urban are doomed to ruin eventually. True progress, and consequently true urbanity, has to do with finding solutions to everyday problems, making it easier for an ordinary citizen to wake up in the morning and go about their day.

This includes finding a balance between green architecture and innovative architecture, allowing cities to not only thrive with technology but to co-exist with the environment as well.

The Urbanity Equation
For the longest time, the urban setting has always followed a simple equation where you subtract green space when skyscrapers and others have to be added to the landscape. As such, as buildings and other structural feats filled the cities, lush greenery started to fade, until you’re left with nothing more than a few hardwoods used as accents. This pervaded until the disastrous effects of climate change started making themselves felt, making it known to every person that the environment will not take its destruction sitting down.

Calamities and disasters are clearly eye-openers that’s a why a more enlightened consciousness began to form, giving birth to architectures adapting to the needs of the times. People are increasingly becoming aware that their actions have consequences and that the results aren’t pretty. Fortunately, it’s not too late.

Mankind has done a great deal of damage to the planet but it is not too far gone that nothing can be done to remedy the situation. But if these efforts are to have a lasting impact, they have to be implemented at the soonest time possible while following a logical plan of action. After all, the sooner sustainability trends catch on, the sooner damages can be softened if not completely reverted.

If you’re looking for a home in the sky, for instance, make sure you go with a condominium that employs green technologies in their property, like energy-saving measures. Aside from automatically helping you do your bit for the environment, green architecture has impacts on energy use so this helps you save on costs because overall resource consumption in your building will be reduced. You’ll see this when you calculate condo cost. A portion of your condominium dues accounts, after all, for your share in the upkeep and expenses of the building so lesser expenses means smaller monthly fees for you to pay. Saving money while saving the environment? Not a bad idea at all.

Does It Add Up?
Ask anyone and most people will tell you that they still appreciate urbanity, what with the conveniences it offers in many aspects of day-to-day living. It’s definitely understandable because there are just many things in your life that you wouldn’t want to go back to after having seen what a better way is like. But in your aim to amass the better things in life, are you sure the trade-off is worth it? Sometimes, it’s just not.

Green living is a little bit easier today because property developers have taken it upon themselves to introduce sustainable and environment-friendly features in their projects. But just because your building recycles water doesn’t mean that you’ve done enough of your part in taking care of the environment. You have to take a more active role than that.

You have to think beyond what your actions will mean tomorrow, next week, or next month. You have to consider what your actions will lead to years in the future, when a different generation is walking down the very streets you walked on. Are you leaving them a livable world? No one can really say what will happen in the future but having the future in mind in whatever you do today will help ensure that there is indeed one to look forward to.

Putting Two and Two Together
The modern world will always have a certain level of flashiness to it but there is hope that it wouldn’t be as bright as before, a time when people are blinded to the realities and consequences of urban living. By turning down the lights bit by bit, people are able to see more clearly where the brazen path to the urban realm is really leading to (not that it hurts to save on energy costs at the same time).

Calculate condominium expenses and you’ll get an idea as to how much living in the lap of luxury will cost you. But is that amount really all you have to pay to enjoy a life of convenience? Costs can come in various forms and most of the time people are not willing to pay what it takes to get what they want. Worse, they don’t want to pay anything at all. Nothing in life is free and it’s this kind of greed and selfishness that got everyone into trouble. The sooner people find a way to balance their needs and wants with that of the planet’s, the sooner they’ll be able to truly make the most out of living in an urban landscape.

Urbanity is not evil. Don’t fear endless urbanity. There’s no need to fall into a zero-sum mentality when everyone can emerge as winners. It will require work but green urbanity is more than doable.

Anna Rodriguez is a Project Consultant for various real estate developers. She has a degree in Industrial Engineering and currently lives in the Philippines. She has also backgrounds in online marketing, social media management, and is currently a writer for Agency Post, and owns Homey Guide Blog.

If you would like to have your thoughts and opinions published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.