UC Explains Concept Behind $16 Million Renovation of Historic Sears Building

The $16 million transformation of a 1929 department store into a research and innovation center for the University of Cincinnati is well underway in Avondale.

“The building is designed for space for work between outside companies and the university. There will likely be offices, labs, and open work areas. The interior has opportunities for collaborative areas, and open areas with flexible work space layout,” said University Architect Mary Beth McGrew.

UrbanCincy reported in January 2014 that UC intended to demolish the building, which is located at 2900 Reading Road and was originally built as a Sears, Roebuck and Co. department store. However, the university later decided to preserve the structure, seeing the potential for this renovation to spur new development in the surrounding area.

“It is to be hoped the renovation of the building owned by the university will entice others to develop in the nearby lots. This building might indeed be a catalyst,” added McGrew.

Technically a renovation project, it hardly meets the definition of being one that focuses on historic preservation. In fact, many UrbanCincy readers who have seen the renovation in progress have been curious about the extent to which the original building would be preserved.

While the core of the original 1929 structure is being saved, the 1945 addition has already been demolished. Additionally, much of the brick exterior of the original 1929 building has also been removed. The prominent brick tower on the structure, while being saved, is also being obscured by the addition of a fourth floor.

McGrew explained to UrbanCincy that brick on the tower will be preserved and replaced, where the brick had been damaged, by recovered brick from elsewhere on the structure. Aside from the tower and some accent areas, the rest of the structure will be clad in modern glass treatment.

“The brick was supported in large part by steel angles that were in very bad shape,” McGrew said. “The new façade material will be a brick of similar color and size.”

Cincinnati DOTE Aiming to Narrow Liberty Street Redesign to Two Alternatives

Tomorrow night will be the second meeting of the Liberty Street Safety Improvement Study – an effort previously called the Liberty Street Complete Street Project in its 2013 iteration.

At the meeting, Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation & Engineering will present various concepts for the street’s reconfiguration, including five separate options at seven lanes, and additional six, five, four and three-lane options. Many of these scenarios contribute enough additional space to make development on the south side of Liberty Street feasible.

A major consideration, as the project’s title would suggest, is the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists that share the roadway. The current excessive width of the road, coupled with the speed of cars, contributes to an environment incongruous to pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Other elements being considered include pedestrian and cycling facilities, development potential on the south side of Liberty Street, streetscape aesthetics, automobile capacity/safety, and the preservation of on-street parking.

Both current and past public input, like the 2011 Brewery District Master Plan, stress a strong desire to improve the connection of urban fabric between the northern and southern portions of Over-the-Rhine.

“Liberty Street cuts off two sections of OTR,” said Frank Henson, a local cycling advocate. “All other north-south routes get cut up by the expansive width of Liberty; and I support narrowing it, with the inclusion of space for bicycle facilities.”

Many believe that the narrowing of Liberty Street can accomplish both of these objectives; although questions remain about how much narrowing is appropriate, and what should be done with the additional space that is made available.

According to data from the OKI Regional Council of Governments, Liberty Street has an annual average daily traffic (AADT) count of 14,278, which is actually less than the much narrower Ludlow Avenue’s 14,551 AADT in Clifton.

Ludlow Avenue has parking on both sides of the street, aside from peak hours from 7am to 9am where it is prohibited on the south side of the road, and 4pm to 6pm where it is prohibited on the north side of the road. This means that Ludlow Avenue, with its nearly identical traffic count, has fewer lanes of traffic during both peak and non-peak hours.

Martin Luther King Drive, near the University of Cincinnati’s main campus, has the same width as Liberty Street, but carries upwards of 20,000 AADT; and portions of Reading Road carry more than 25,000 AADT with just five lanes.

As a result, one could then deduce that travel demand on Liberty Street is far, far less than its width warrants.

Should Liberty Street be significantly narrowed, based on these figures, it could still absorb its current capacity, and, if necessary, divert traffic to Central Parkway, Fort Washington Way, or one of the many east-west thoroughfares that also have highway access.

Option 7d includes a “shared use bicycle/pedestrian pathway;” and while this widened path is intended to accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists, it is generally considered a less safe practice, as compared to separate facilities, to mix the two due to the faster travel speeds of people on bicycles.

An option that has bike and pedestrian facilities, preserves on-street parking, while also providing three travel lanes could reduce speed, increase safety, provide additional space for development, and still manage capacity based on comparable traffic counts.

The Ludlow Avenue and Reading Road examples disprove the idea that any decrease in capacity would be crippling. However, should demand increase, traffic is also highly divertible to other thoroughfares within a short distance.

Residents and interested parties can express their opinions on Tuesday, March 1 from 6pm to 8pm at the Woodward Theater in Over-the-Rhine. City officials say that they hope to narrow the alternatives to two following this meeting.

Construction Set to Begin on Cooperative Clifton Market Later This Month

After a hard-fought fundraising campaign, Clifton Market is expected to begin construction at the end of this month to convert the former 22,000-square-foot Keller’s IGA into a cooperative grocery store.

Incorporated in January 2014, the group behind Clifton Market successfully purchased the former IGA in April 2015, after a year of negotiations and challenges. Since that time, the group has raised money by selling ownership shares, acquiring two loans totaling $3 million to cover the costs for the building’s renovation and purchase of equipment, and securing a 12-year tax abatement from the City of Cincinnati that is valued at $1,063,000.

When the IGA closed in 2011, Clifton and other nearby neighborhoods were added to Cincinnati’s collection of food deserts – places where people are unable to easily access a full-service grocery store.

Following the store’s closure, Clifton residents met and decided to find a way to bring a grocery store back to the neighborhood. According to Marilyn Hyland, a Clifton Market board member, the group of citizens decided that a co-op model would be the most effective, allowing the group to pool their money in order to accomplish their common goal.

Hyland explained to UrbanCincy that the IGA closed, in part, due to problems stemming from the Great Recession, but that the grocery store was still doing around $200,000 in sales a week in its final days.

Clifton Market’s grocery market analyst, Keith Wicks, says that he predicts the new store will draw approximately 15,000 people a week, while also creating 35 new full-time jobs.

While there are a number of other grocery store projects either underway or in planning stages in Corryville, Northside and Avondale, Clifton’s store is expected to be bolstered by its proximity to high population density, along with the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College, and Hebrew Union College.

Other neighborhood leaders, meanwhile, are excited for the additional foot traffic the store will bring to the historic business district, along with the reintroduction of local and organic produce to Ludlow Avenue.

“The amount of activity that will flow through the market will aid other Ludlow Avenue businesses in attracting customers, from the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond, into our business district,” said Brad Hawse, a member of the Ludlow 21 working group.

Hawse says that the group is looking forward to increased development in the area as young Americans continue to choose walkable, urban neighborhoods as their preferred locations to live, work, and play.

“This will also provide our neighborhood residents a convenient way to get healthy food without needing to drive or take the bus to a neighborhood across town,” Hawse explained. “This will not only decrease the amount of time they need to spend on grocery shopping, but also reduce the number of automobile trips our community needs to make.”

The development team says that they are currently waiting on their building permit to be approved, and hope to begin renovation work by the end of February. If all goes according to plan, Clifton Market is expected to open near the end of summer.

UC Students, Staff Call on Metro to Make Additional Uptown Service Enhancements

University of Cincinnati’s Department of Planning+Design+Construction recently partnered with Metro for an on-campus listening session for input on how to better serve the Uptown community. The two-day outreach event included meetings with students, faculty and staff on both the main campus and medical campus to gather feedback from current bus riders and non-users.

In line with the many other community engagement sessions Metro has hosted throughout the city over the past year, participants were asked how they would like to see Metro improve, while non-riders discussed what was needed to get them to choose taking the bus.

Among the faculty and staff responses, improving east-west crosstown routes and frequency topped the list, followed by adding frequency to the existing 17, 19, 78 (Lincoln Heights) and 43 (Bond Hill) lines, adding express service between Uptown and Liberty Township, improving evening frequency, and adding more ticket vending machines.

Student feedback requested modernizing the fare box; adding evening and weekend frequency on the 19, 51, and 78 lines; improving instructions on how to ride the bus; adding a public display that monitors the number of available bike racks on the bus (currently, each bus has a capacity of two); and integrating the UC Bearcat card as a form of payment for bus fare.

Additionally, staff from the university presented a proposal for a new bus route called the University Connector. Similar to the 51, the route would connect Northside, Clifton, Walnut Hills, Oakley, and Madisonville, with a center circulator around three sides of UC’s main campus.

University staff members believe the route would minimize transfer wait times and improve accessibility to key academic buildings on UC’s main campus, and improve connectivity with the medical campus. But while the proposed circulator service would use established Metro stops, its location in Oakley would not take advantage of the new $1.2 million Oakley Transit Center that will break ground later this year.

As the building boom continues at a rapid pace in Uptown, a growing focus is being placed on improving the area’s transportation access – both UC’s student government and Board of Trustees have recently stated their support for extending the Cincinnati Streetcar up the hill, Metro launched Metro*Plus in 2013 and established the Uptown Transit District in 2014, which features enhanced stations, ticket vending machines, real time arrival signage, and improved wayfinding design.

There is currently no timetable for implementing any of the recommended improvements, but it is widely anticipated that Metro will put a county-wide transit tax on this November’s ballot that would be used to improve the agency’s bus operations.

Success of Hickory Place Townhomes Accentuates Avondale’s Turnaround

A long-held vision for bringing new market rate housing to Avondale is finally being realized; and its early success has surprised many. With most of the initial eight Hickory Place Townhomes already sold, developers say they are ready to invest in a second phase.

“We knew the townhomes in phase one would sell quickly, but sales outpaced our expectations,” said Beth Robinson, president and CEO of the Uptown Consortium.

Robinson says that the first five homes were sold in just 16 days, which is well ahead of the 51-day average for homes on the market in the Cincinnati area. Those first five homes, she says, also had listing prices above $175,000.

When community leaders and development officials with the Uptown Consortium broke ground on eight townhomes in early 2014, many were skeptical about whether they homes would sell.

The skepticism was easy to understand.

The site is located in the middle of a redevelopment area that has yet to be fully realized, is situated in a neighborhood that is often defined by crime and poverty, and is also located near many foreclosed or abandoned homes. But knowing the challenges of the site and project only offers a partial understanding.

The site is located just off of Burnet Avenue, which has seen tens of millions in new investment over the past decade. These investments have created new businesses and jobs, while also preserving some long-time neighborhood establishments and historic assets. Meanwhile, the nearby Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has continued to add hundreds of high-paying medical and research jobs to its growing campus, and the nearby playground and ball field was recently freshened up thanks to an investment from the Reds Community Fund.

These new investments, combined with changing demographics more interested in urban living and working options, have set the table for a new path forward for the city’s seventh most populated neighborhood.

“We are thrilled that the market has responded so favorably to the Hickory Place Townhomes,” said Ozie Davis, executive director at Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation. “The success of this project proves our strong belief that Avondale is the next hot residential market.”

Similar to what has been completed thus far, the $5 million second phase will include eight townhomes with approximately 1,400 square feet of living space, and including two to three bedrooms. In order to maximize the use of the land, developers are only building one-car garages for each home, but they will come with the option of an additional on-street parking space along Northern Avenue.

Listing agents with Coldwell Banker’s Metro Link office say that the prices for these homes will start at $225,000.

Developing homes in this price range within Avondale is intentional. In addition to being the largest black community in the city, Avondale is also one of the city’s poorest. This has led to numerous problems over the years, including schooling options, lack of healthy food options, crime and abandonment.

While neighborhood leaders have shown a strong commitment to bolstering affordable housing options, and improving existing conditions of the neighborhood for longstanding residents, the diversification of income levels and housing options is seen as a positive.

If recent success stories, such as the $40 million Avondale Town Center development on Reading Road, and the massive capital investment to improve low-income housing options, are any indication, then the future of the neighborhood looks as bright and as hopeful as the vision Davis has for it.