Metro Has Begun Installing New 24-Hour Ticketing Kiosks Throughout City

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) has made a new push to expand ticket and stored-value cards by adding new locations and options for riders to make their purchases.

The first announcement was that Metro would begin selling passes at Cincinnati City Hall, starting April 1, inside the city’s Treasury Department in Room 202. The sales office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, and will offer Zone 1 and 2 Metro 30-day rolling passes, $20 stored-value cards and Metro/TANK passes.

The new location marks the twelfth sales office for Metro including three others Downtown and locations in Walnut Hills, Tri-County, Western Hills, North College Hill, Over-the-Rhine, Roselawn, College Hill and Avondale.

The region’s largest transit agency also installed its first ticket vending machine. The new kiosk is located at Government Square and is available for use 24 hours a day. The machine only accepts cash and credit cards, and offers Metro 30-day rolling passes including Metro/TANK passes, and $10, $20 and $30 stored-value cards.

According to Metro officials, this is the first of more ticketing machines to come with the stations in the Uptown Transit District to be the next locations to get them. Future additions, officials say, will be chosen based on the amount of ridership at given transit hubs throughout the system.

The new sales options come after Metro introduced a new electronic fare payment system in 2011. The new modern options of payment and ticketing proved so popular that after just one year, Metro officials cited the updated technology as one of the primary drivers for its ridership growth.

While the new initiatives show progress for the 41-year-old transit agency, they also show just how far behind the times it is.

The best fare payment systems in the world are tap and go systems that allow riders to charge their cards with whatever value they would like, thus eliminating any confusion of needing specific cards for certain time periods or values. Such cards also allow for perfect interoperability between various modes of transport including bus, rail, ferry, bikeshare and taxi.

In other instances, like Seoul’s T-Money Card and London’s Oyster Card, the systems even allow for the tap and go payment systems to accept credit cards and bank cards enabled with the technology – totally eliminating any barrier for potential riders wary of signing up for a new card they may not use all that often.

Similar to the fare payment cards, the new ticketing machines are outdated on arrival. Transit agencies throughout the United States that have had ticketing machines for years, like Chicago and New York, are currently in the process of transitioning to touch screen kiosks that are more user-friendly.

Uptown Leaders Aiming to Help Small Businesses with $500,000 Development Fund

Leaders in Uptown are looking for a way to further help and encourage small businesses to set up shop in region’s second largest employment center. The hope is that a new revolving loan fund will help make the business climate better for those small businesses who often have trouble with upfront capital.

Uptown Consortium President and CEO, Beth Robinson says that the decision to start such a fund came as a result of feedback received during its business retention and small business visits in 2012. Those involved expressed a frustration with being able to secure necessary upfront capital. So to help solve that, the Uptown Consortium funded a new Development Opportunity Fund with $500,000 of its own money last year.

“The whole purpose of these things is to create a supportive business environment,” Robinson explained. “We have coaching services, means of communicating and now this fund. We really want to support job creation. That’s what this is about.”

McMillan Street in Clifton Heights
Uptown neighborhoods have seen a surge of private investment in recent years, but some small businesses are struggling to get involved. Photograph by Randy Simes for UrbanCincy.

Robinson says that the fund is intended to support capital costs of new or expanding small and mid-sized businesses in the Uptown area, but that since it is funded with their own money there is a great deal of flexibility with how the money can be used.

“We’re open to whatever grows jobs in Uptown, and whatever stabilizes and moves the business districts forward,” noted Robinson.

These types of funds are typically administered by government agencies, not development corporations like the Uptown Consortium. This, in and of itself, gives the fund the much greater flexibility leaders are touting and on loan requirements.

The first and only business to take advantage of the fund so far is Stag’s Barbershop, which used $10,000 to complete a 1,400-square-foot expansion in Avondale. As a result, the neighborhood institution now offers, for the first time since its opening in the 1950s, a full beauty salon with hair, nail and feet treatments.

What that means is that applicants can apply for loans of the $490,000 in remaining funds. Should the program demonstrate viability and demand, Robinson says that it could be extended and potentially expanded.

“Since we are looking at it as a revolving loan fund, if the demand is there and it is having our desired intention, then there might be the possibility of expanding it,” Robinson told UrbanCincy.

Officials say that there are several businesses in the pipeline for loans right now, but that they are taking things on a first-come, first-serve basis. Ideally, they say, the new or expanding businesses will be located within one of the five neighborhood business districts in the area: Clifton’s Ludlow Avenue, Avondale’s Burnett Avenue, Corryville’s Short Vine, Calhoun/McMillan Streets in CUF, and Auburn Avenue in Mt. Auburn.

Those interested in learning more about the Uptown Consortium’s small business outreach programs, including this Development Opportunity Fund, are encouraged to contact Janelle Lee at jlee@uptownconsortium.org.

University of Cincinnati to Demolish Former Sears Department Store Building This Summer

The University of Cincinnati (UC) has informed UrbanCincy that it will demolish its Campus Services Building at Reading Road and Lincoln Avenue. If finances are available, officials say that demolition will begin this summer.

Readers first brought the potential demolition of the 84-year-old structure to UrbanCincy’s attention in December. According to UC’s director of project management, Dale Beeler, the building has deteriorated significantly due to a lack of upkeep, and says that it is currently “crumbing around us.”

The conditions are so bad, in fact, that water has gotten into the wall system and fractured brick can occasionally be seen falling off the structure.

Campus Services Building
The former Sears Department Store in Avondale will soon meet the wrecking ball as the site is prepped for new development. Photograph by Jacob Fessler for UrbanCincy.

Originally a Sears Department store, the university had been using the structure for some information technology services, storage of excess furniture, some administrative functions and some other various non-student-related activities.

The path, to close and demolition of the facility, was cleared approximately three years ago when the University of Cincinnati purchased and renovated the Fishwick Warehouse, visible off I-75, in order to consolidate these kinds of services.

Located in Bond Hill, the newer, two-story warehouse is located on 10 total acres of property and allows the university to consolidate a variety of non-student functions and store other items outside.

Meanwhile, officials within the University of Cincinnati Office of Planning+Design+Construction estimate that the demolition of the Campus Services Building will cost around $1.5 million and will be put out to bid in the coming months.

With the decision already made to tear down the historic structure, the question then becomes what will happen with the soon-to-be prominent site adjacent to the $108 million MLK Interchange project.

“There is no real direction as to whether the university will try to sell it or hold it as a land bank,” Beeler explained. “But there are probably some hospitals on the hill here that are more interested in that property than we are. We think it will be a more appealing site once that building is gone.”

Officials believe that the improved access to the site, offered through the MLK Interchange project, will only improve the value of the land, thus making it even more appealing to another user.

Rumors in the local real estate community suggest that there is interest in the site becoming a medical research campus.

Episode #30: Looking Back at 2013 (Part 2)

U Square at The Loop

On the 30th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we bring you the second half of our conversation looking back at 2013. In the first half our discussion, we talked about recent events surrounding the Cincinnati Streetcar.

In this second half, we discussed a variety of development projects across the region. We speculate on the future of the Uptown area, with new projects such as U Square, other housing and mixed-use developments, a demolition on UC’s campus, and the upcoming new interchange at Martin Luther King Boulevard. We also cover downtown projects such as the Dunnhumby Centre, the Tower Place and Pogue’s Garage redevelopments, and the mystery of Phase II of The Banks. Finally, we touch on Manhattan Harbor, Blue Ash Summit Park, The Kenwood Collection, and the new Brent Spence Bridge.

Aerial photography of U Square by Jake Mecklenborg for UrbanCincy.

Cincinnati’s Streetcar Victory a Decade in the Making

The final, final, final vote for the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar took place today. Perhaps by now you all know the outcome. A six-person veto-proof super-majority voted to continue construction. Cincinnati, as Mayor John Cranley (D) said today, will have a streetcar.

What is important in this moment is to realize that everyone involved lived up to their campaign promises. Wendell Young (D), Chris Seelbach (D) and Yvette Simpson (D) stood strong in their support of the project – even in the face of uncertain outcomes.

At the same time, Christopher Smitherman (I), Amy Murray (R) and Charlie Winburn (R) held true to their promises to oppose the streetcar no matter what. They were the three lone votes against restarting construction.

Construction work will soon resume on Cincinnati’s $133M streetcar project. Photographs by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Then there are the three council members who campaigned on taking a serious look at the numbers and making a prompt decision about whether to cancel the project or proceed. P.G. Sittenfeld (D), David Mann (D) and Kevin Flynn (C) all did that once they saw the numbers in detail. Cancelling a project this far along would have been fiscally irresponsible, and they voted true to their campaign promises to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollars.

UrbanCincy has been covering this project since we started the website back in 2007. Our original coverage focused on redevelopment efforts in Downtown and then Over-the-Rhine, but the streetcar quickly became a big part of that redevelopment narrative. It is no secret that we are strong supporters of the project and believe it will improve mobility in the center city and set the city on a path toward building the regional rail system everyone seems to now desire.

There are many people responsible for getting Cincinnati to this stage, but the biggest credit must absolutely be given to John Schneider. If it were not for his unrelenting leadership on this issue over the past decade, we would not be anywhere close to where we are now.

The emergence of Mayor Mark Mallory (D) then gave the city a prominent leader to push the project forward, and Mallory leaned on the expertise and leadership of former City Manager Milton Dohoney and Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (D) to get it all done.

It is important to keep in mind that the person who first pushed for the Uptown extension to be included in phase one was in fact Roxanne Qualls. The Uptown Connector was never part of the original phase one plan, but was added in later as “Phase 1b” at the urging of Qualls, who then worked with Mallory and then Governor Ted Strickland (D) to secure state funding to make that happen.

Hard fought victories in 2009 and 2011 helped keep the project alive, but also delayed it and ran up the project’s costs. Those delays also allowed enough time for Governor John Kasich (R) to assume office and pull the $52 million in state funding Ohio had originally pledged.

So while Qualls’ leadership and vision to have the first phase include the Uptown Connector is not being realized at this exact moment, our attention must now turn to extending the streetcar line to neighborhoods in Uptown as quickly as possible.

Cincinnati Regional Rail Plan
The first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar system is a small part of a much larger regional rail plan envisioned by leaders. Map provided by OKI Regional Council of Governments.

A new wave of leaders and organizers has emerged in Cincinnati as a result of this most recent battle over the streetcar project. This includes the heroic efforts of Eric Avner and the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation for drumming up private support to contribute $9 million toward the project’s ongoing operations.

Their hard work and courage should certainly be commended, but let’s also not forget the people who have been pounding the pavement on behalf of the streetcar since the beginning. Most Cincinnatians in 2007 did not know what a streetcar was, much less a modern one and the benefits it would bring. The hard work put in by those people early on was necessary.

This movement was not built overnight and these supporters are not fair-weather fans of the city. The movement has grown in size and grown more sophisticated over the past decade and is now stronger than ever.

You too can join this urbanist movement in Cincinnati.

We gather at the Moerlein Lager House around the first Thursday of every month to host URBANexchange – an urbanist networking and social event. We also partner with the Niehoff Urban Studio at the University of Cincinnati to study complex issues facing our city and engage the public in that dialog. Please join us at our next URBANexchange and pay us a visit in Corryville for our next event with the Niehoff Urban Studio.

Now is a time to celebrate and reflect. But it is not the time to get complacent. There are more issues to address and this energy that saved the streetcar needs to be redirected there. Congratulations, Cincinnati! Let’s get to work.

EDITORIAL: Localizing Operating Costs for Streetcar Sets Dangerous Precedent

On Thursday morning Mayor John Cranley (D) called a press conference for a “major” announcement. He was joined by leadership of labor unions representing city workers, along with Councilman Kevin Flynn (C).

So what was the big news? Well, Mayor Cranley had announced that he would be willing to continue the Cincinnati Streetcar project that has already received direct voter approval twice, support of City Council, appropriated funds for its entire project cost, and began construction, if streetcar supporters could come up with a private funding commitment that would cover all operating costs for the first phase of the system over the next 30 years.

Oh yeah, and he asked that those boosters kindly secure that $60-80 million commitment in one week’s time.

Cincinnati Streetcar Construction Work at Government SquareUtility relocation work proceeded near Government Square on November 16, but whether that work will ever resume is up to Mayor Cranley and Councilmembers David Mann and Kevin Flynn. Photograph by Travis Estell for UrbanCincy.

Aside from the unprecedented request, a first of its kind for any transit program in America, it is troubling for two other key reasons. First, it sets a dangerous new precedent for how city government operates in Cincinnati, and secondly it is an obscene double standard for transit projects to force such a financial commitment.

Dangerous Precedent
With labor union representatives at his side, Mayor Cranley continually stated how he has an obligation to deliver the basic services we all cherish, and said that Cincinnati has a difficult enough time meeting current financial liabilities, much less new ones. As a result, he demanded that the private sector and streetcar supporters, should they actually support the project, put their skin in the game and fund its operations for the next 30 years.

That is all great campaign rhetoric, which Cranley used brilliantly leading up to the November 5 election, but it is completely irrational.

If the City of Cincinnati cannot afford any new financial liabilities, then will Mayor Cranley and his administration be requesting operating plans and financing for those new efforts from anything that comes to his desk? He has stated he wants to hire 200 new police officers, but who will shoulder the ongoing financial liability that will place on the City’s operating budget? Cranley has said he does not want to raise taxes, so that leaves only making cuts elsewhere to free up money for such a huge expansion of public safety forces.

Being and true and blue west sider that Mt. Lookout resident John Cranley is, he also supports the proposed Westwood Square project. While UrbanCincy also wholeheartedly supports that project and the form-based code it was borne out of, we have never seen a financing plan for it or any estimate for what its ongoing costs will be to the City. If “no new liabilities” means “no new liabilities” then we are concerned that Mayor Cranley’s new approach to governance will jeopardize the Westwood Square project.

Westwood SquareMayor Cranley’s dangerous new precedent might put the advancement of such projects as Westwood Square at-risk. If not, it would create a massive double standard. Image provided.

In addition to the Cincinnati Streetcar, 200 new police officers and Westwood Square, this new heavy-handed approach will also jeopardize the Wasson Way Trail, future phases of Smale Riverfront Park, improvements to the city’s waste collection operations, the rebuild of the Western Hills Viaduct, completion of the Ohio River Trail, and development of the Eastern Corridor. This new standard will also put at risk what the Cranley Administration seems to hold as the Holy Grail of all local projects – the MLK Interchange.

Should we also expect a move by the Cranley Administration to stop all construction activities and spending on the Waldvogel Viaduct that is currently being rebuilt? That project has never submitted a financial report that estimates a 30-year operating cost, much less any private sources to cover those ongoing financial liability costs.

Double Standard
UrbanCincy certainly hopes that this is in fact not a new standard protocol at City Hall, because it will put a stop to virtually everything the City does and bring the delivery of public services to a screeching halt. If that is the case, then Mayor Cranley’s olive branch to streetcar supporters is nothing more than a massive double standard.

Virtually every project the city undertakes adds liability costs. The Parking Modernization & Lease plan would have, of course, added none and in fact reduced future liability costs, but Mayor Cranley and his administration were quick to kill that deal as well.

And while this move by Mayor Cranley is typical of anti-transit forces around the country, it is also unacceptable. The user fee for roadways – the federal gas tax – has not been raised since 1993 and covers approximately 51% of the annual costs of maintaining our roadways. Public safety departments collect nowhere close to the amount of revenue they demand in terms of their costs to operate. Our schools, libraries, cultural institutions and parks all require taxpayer support, but such demands are not placed on them, nor should they.

Had Smale Riverfront Park been mandated by Mayor Cranley’s administration to provide 30 years’ worth of operating funds upfront in binding agreements before he approved any capital dollars for it to get started, then that project would most likely still not be started to this day. Instead, under normal governance, Smale Riverfront Park moved forward with its construction, and then capable leaders such as Willie Carden, Jr. were tasked with developing innovative and sustainable mechanisms to fund in over its lifespan.

It is unfortunate the Mayor Cranley and his administration have cornered Cincinntians into this position. It is unreasonable to ask our business community to fund public projects that should be funded by the public agency that committed to doing the project in the first place. Fortunately Cincinnati has proactive thinking leaders like Eric Avner and the Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation working to meet the unreasonable demands of Mayor Cranley.

But should the business community deliver on this unreasonable request to fund the project’s operations for the next 30 years; then those investors should receive the returns the investment generates. The same is true if city residents want only those along the line to pay for its operations. If the costs must be localized, then so should its benefits.

Quite simply, residents elsewhere in the city who do not want to take on any risk deserve none of the returns.

The center city already subsidizes the public services provided to the city’s neighborhoods. If Mayor Cranley wants to continue on this damaging path of pitting neighborhoods against one another, then we will all quickly realize just how much we are dependent on one another economically.

In 2011, for example, the City of Cincinnati collected 71% of all city tax revenues from just eight neighborhoods: Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, West End, Queensgate, CUF, Corryville, Avondale and Clifton – collectively and colloquially as “Downtown” and “Uptown”.

The health and success of Downtown and Uptown is critically important to the overall health and success of the entire city. While many residents may believe that too much is invested in those areas, the reality is that those eight neighborhoods pay far more in taxes than they ever receive.

UrbanCincy is calling for an end to the divisiveness and to fully invest in our city’s future. Finish the Cincinnati Streetcar.