Hamilton County Pushes Forward With Latest Phase of The Banks

Hamilton County has awarded the latest bid package for a variety of trade contracts on the infrastructure work for Phase III of The Banks, which includes a 690-space addition to the Central Riverfront Garage and a one-block addition of other infrastructure south of Freedom Way.

All three contacts were valued at a combined $653,228; and all went to area companies. According to Phil Beck, project executive for The Banks development, Universal Contracting Corporation will perform site work, Geograph Industries will handle signage, and ESI will manage security of the site.

While not particularly large or sexy contracts, project officials say they are representative of the continued progress being made at the massive central riverfront mixed-use development.

“Awarding these contracts for work at The Banks signals that another aspect of the riverfront development is nearing completion,” said Chris Monzel (R), president of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners. “This phase of the project sets the stage for more economic impact.”

The University of Cincinnati Economics Center has estimated that, once fully completed, the first phase of The Banks will positively impacting the local economy by some $276 million per year – a figure they expect to grow substantially once later phases are built out. General Electric’s new 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, alone, is projected to boost the region’s economy by roughly $1 billion annually.

While Hamilton County is overseeing the construction of the infrastructure work at Phase III, the City of Cincinnati and the private development team is making progress on the vertical build of GE’s new building, the 165-room AC Hotel, and 291 apartments and 19,000 square feet of retail within the first two phases of the project.

THP Limited and Burgess & Niple are in charge of the design of Phase III work, while Messer is handling the construction.

As of now, all the infrastructure work being managed by Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati is $29.3 million within budget; and project officials say that they have achieved 30% Small Business Enterprises participation on all work, but just 17.3% on phase three activities thus far. Beck also says that phase three work is on schedule to be complete by September.

Support Continues to Grow for Daily Train Service Between Cincinnati and Chicago

Midwest Regional Rail ServiceOhio is surprisingly one of the nation’s least-served states by intercity passenger rail service, but All Aboard Ohio is working to change that.

Perhaps best well known for their fruitless advocacy for the 3C Corridor – an intercity passenger rail line that would have linked Ohio’s largest cities – All Aboard Ohio has regained relevancy as of late. While continually advocating for improvements on existing Amtrak service across the northern reaches of the state, the non-profit organization has also become increasingly involved with efforts to establish rail service between Columbus and Chicago, and Cincinnati and Chicago.

Columbus currently has no connections to the capital of the economically robust Great Lakes region, but Cincinnati does, albeit ever so slightly. As of now, Cincinnatians can get to Chicago via the scrappy three-day-a-week train service offered on Amtrak’s Cardinal Route. In addition to not being daily service, trains infamously arrive and depart in the middle of the night.

This is something, however, that area leaders and All Aboard Ohio officials are working to change. One potential example, they say, is to extend existing service offered on Amtrak’s Hoosier Route. The combination of Amtrak’s Cardinal and Hoosier routes offers Indianapolis daily service to Chicago. From there, the hope is to make gradual improvements to bring the service up to 110mph speeds.

“There is a buzz and excitement in southwest Ohio about connecting to Indy and Chicago that is palpable,” explained Derek Bauman, SW Ohio Director for All Aboard Ohio. “Even those that have not necessarily been fans of previous rail projects see the necessity of connecting to Chicago – the business and commerce epicenter of the U.S. between the coasts.”

The energy Bauman speaks of was recently seen at an area meeting held by All Aboard Ohio at the Christian Moerlein Tap Room in Over-the-Rhine. According to Ken Prendergast, Executive Director of All Aboard Ohio, such meetings are typically pretty dull, but this was not the case in Cincinnati.

“Our free local meetings are usually less extravagant than our statewide meetings, and are more akin to briefing or coordination gatherings,” Prendergast told UrbanCincy. “They generally only draw a dozen or two dozen people, so this meeting’s attendance was pretty good.”

All Aboard Ohio welcomed Cincinnati City Councilwoman Amy Murray (R) as their special guest. Over the past few months Murray has taken on a bit of a leadership role in the discussion about establishing daily rail service to Indianapolis and onward to Chicago. Her leadership has also come at a time when Hamilton County Commissioners, in a surprising fashion, voted unanimously in favor of studying the establishment of such service.

Bauman says that All Aboard Ohio has been working with the OKI Regional Council of Governments on a potential scope and funding plan for a feasibility study on the manner, following the unanimous vote from Greg Hartmann (R), Todd Portune (D) and Chris Monzel (R). He says that the group has also been meeting with local jurisdictions and business leaders to grow support even further.

“A big part of this is educating stakeholders on what our competitor regions throughout the Midwest are doing,” said Bauman. “For example, Detroit has three Amtrak roundtrips a day, Milwaukee has seven, St. Louis has five, and even Carbondale, IL has three. Simply put, we are being left behind.”

Some of that recent outreach has included both Hamilton and Oxford – communities that sit along the existing Cardinal Route and would be prime candidates for stops in a case where service is enhanced. To that extent, both communities, in addition to Miami University, have expressed their support for the effort. Now, according to Bauman, the next steps are to reach out to Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati.

“As we continue to work with business and government leaders toward establishing at least daily service to Cincinnati, coordinating with our regional institutions of higher learning will be a growing and vital piece of our advocacy partnership focus,” Bauman explained. “Bringing back proper inter-city rail services will be transformative for our region and positively impact the lives of people.”

What should happen with the buildings Hamilton County wants to sell?

It sounds more and more like Hamilton County will sell off some of its underutilized properties in the central business district. Many of these building’s need to have upgrades made to them, but would make for excellent conversions into additional residential properties. More from The Enquirer:

Details of the plan are still under wraps, but county officials told The Enquirer several buildings could be sold and hundreds of workers could be moved to new digs in the next several years. Their goal is to use proceeds from the sale of their buildings to help pay for new offices, most likely at the old Mercy Hospital site in Mt. Airy.

The Times-Star Building is by far the most attractive of those properties and county officials say they’ve received several calls about it from potential developers, even though the building isn’t officially on the market yet.

PHOTOS: LumenoCity Showcases Music Hall’s Splendor for Second Consecutive Year

The wildly popular LumenoCity returned to Washington Park two weekends ago, and once again highlighted the splendor of Music Hall with a dazzling display of light, music and dance.

Each night included capacity crowds of anywhere between 12,000 to 20,000 people depending on reports. Each night had 12,000 official ticketed spots on the Washington Park lawn, but thousands of additional spectators lined up on nearby streets, balconies and rooftops. Additionally, the event was streamed live on the Internet and on local television.

The event also served as a critical campaign tool for those looking to put a sales tax on the November ballot to pay to renovate Union Terminal and Music Hall. However, it came as a huge surprise to most everyone involved and watching that Hamilton County Commissioners voted 2-1 to not approve the proposal as it was written, and moved forward instead with a plan that eliminated the spectacular Music Hall.

UrbanCincy contributing photographer, Brian Spitzig, was there on multiple nights shooting the event. The following video and 21 photos were taken over the course of that weekend.

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What would moving Hamilton County BOE mean for those without cars?

Unsurprisingly, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) has sided with his fellow Republicans in Hamilton County and cleared the way for Hamilton County’s Board of Election offices to move from Downtown to Mt. Airy. The ruling came as a result of the Hamilton County BOE’s deadlocked vote on the matter, which went along party lines.

Such a move will not happen for several years, but when it does it will make Hamilton County the only urban county in Ohio without its election offices located in its downtown.

Democrats seem to fear that the move will make early voting more difficult for the tens of thousands of residents who do not own a car. Republicans, on the other hand, seem giddy with the prospect of the new site being surrounded by an abundance of “free” surface parking options.

So what would the move mean for those living without a car in Hamilton County? In short, it would make voting a lot more difficult – especially for those in the eastern part of the county. It would also mean that the elections office and lone early voting location for Hamilton County would be moving further away from the population center and where most people work.

Those coming from the transit center at Anderson Towne Centre would see a four-hour round-trip, if they made all of their transfers seamlessly and nothing ran behind schedule. Those in the center city, the most densely populated area in the county, would need to block out several hours to account for the two-hour round-trip journey from Government Square.

If you are trying to get to the new Mt. Airy location from the Glenway Crossing Transit Center, Uptown Transit District or Kenwood Towne Center, your travel time would largely remain unchanged. That is if those people lived within a close walk to those transit centers like those near Government Square. The reality is that each of those three areas are much less walkable and would take considerable time accessing on their own right, thus adding significantly more time to the journey.

Cincinnati Population Density Cincinnati Employment Density

Should Greg Hartmann (R), Chris Monzel (R) and Alex Triantafilou (R) move forward with this it will in fact make the elections office and lone early voting location more accessible for those with cars in the western and northern parts of Hamilton County. It would also, however, make it less accessible for those with cars in the central and eastern parts of the county, and also worse for those without a car at all.

What is troublesome is that those with a car have access to the existing site. Yes, they may have to pay to park, but that is a minor inconvenience that absolutely must be weighed against creating hours-long journeys for those without a car.

The burden would be shifted to those who already have the least in our community. We hope Hartmann, Monzel and Triantafilou realize this would be morally wrong and decide to keep non-back office and early voting operations of the Hamilton County Board of Elections downtown.