With Commuters Slow to Embrace It, Cincinnati Bike Center Finding New Niche

Tucked away beneath the Schmidlapp Event Lawn at Smale Riverfront Park is a great resource for the local cycling community. The Cincinnati Bike Center serves downtown commuters, as well as tourists and locals who may want to take a spin around riverfront parks and urban neighborhoods.

The bike center opened with the first phase of the park four years ago. Located at 120 East Mehring Way, the facility is built into the park structure at the bottom of the Walnut Street Steps, which features a bike runnel for easy movement between levels of the park, and operates in this location under contract with Cincinnati Parks.

Brady Willenbrink, who has served as the manager for the past year-and-a-half, told UrbanCincy that he is setting out to increase public awareness of the center and its many services.

While the center does not sell bicycles, it does operate as a repair shop, performing small fixes such as tire replacements and minor adjustments, or larger jobs like full tuneups and part replacements. Some cycling apparel and accessories are available for sale.

The original vision for the facility was to serve as a commuter station for downtown workers. Such an operation was seen as being similar to the famed McDonald’s Bike Center in Chicago’s Millennium Park. In fact, Cincinnati’s concept even used the same operator and hired the director of Chicago’s center to come and run the new outpost along Cincinnati’s central riverfront.

Over the past four years the Cincinnati Bike Center has signed up just 30 members – a number they say continues to grow. True to the original vision, those commuting members have 24 hour access to a secure, camera guarded space with bike racks and locker rooms. Members are also provided with 20% discounts on repairs, apparel and most other services offered at the CBC.

“They get a locker, take a shower, clean up, go to work, come back, change into their bike clothes and go home,” Willenbrink explained.

Commuters may join with monthly or annual memberships, and the option to use the station on a daily basis is available for occasional commuters or those wishing to try out the facility. Riders also can take advantage of bike valet parking in the secure space during Cincinnati Reds baseball games at the nearby Great American Ball Park. This service is open to all, not only members, and costs just $1 per bike.

It is these more temporary service offerings, however, that have proven to be most popular. Of those, none has been more well-received than the bike rentals offered at the facility.

The resounding popularity of Smale Riverfront Park has made it a day or weekend destination for many visiting the center city since it has opened. With a variety of bikes available by the hour or by the day – including cruiser, road, electric assist, kids, tandem bikes, and bikes that are driven by hand-powered cranks for free use by the disabled. In addition, the center’s small, large, and extra large ‘Quadcycles,’ which have four wheels and seat up to nine people, have been extremely popular with families and other large groups.

Taking lessons from this, the Cincinnati Bike Center has established several popular bicycle and Segway tours. These are scheduled daily along several routes throughout the center city and even extend into Northern Kentucky.

While the center’s operators are hopeful the completion of the Ohio River Trail to the city’s eastern and western suburbs will bolster commuter memberships, Willenbrink says that they will also build on their strengths by soon hosting group bike rides one Friday per month that will be open to the public.

Detailed information on those rides, he says, will be shared soon through their social media pages.

VIDEO: Family Focused, Center City Activities Abound With Return of Baseball Season

Now that baseball is back, it means it is time for Cincinnati’s tourism season to pick-up steam. The return of the Reds means the migration of regional baseball fans to the Queen City to take in the nation’s past time.

Of course, no season can compare to those like last year, which featured the All-Star Game, or seasons where the Reds are in the playoff hunt. But baseball in Cincinnati is tradition; and traditions are, well, traditions. So with that said, here’s a look back at last summer when the Reds failed to live up to expectations, but still drew millions to Great American Ball Park.

The following three-minute video takes a look at some of the center city’s most prominent attractions through the eyes of a family. And if there is one thing at which Cincinnati excels, it is family focused vacations centered around baseball season.

If the embedded video fails to play, you can view it on Vimeo here.

Episode #56: Stadiums and Cities

St. Louis NFL stadium proposalOn the 56th episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we are joined by Alex Ihnen of nextSTL to discuss stadiums and their impacts on cities.

We talk about the new NFL stadium proposed for St. Louis’ north riverfront and whether it could actually help redevelop that struggling part of the city. We also discuss whether this proposal is an example of sports team owners ripping off cities, or whether it could be positive financially for the St. Louis.

Finally we compare the proposal with the experience of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in building the new Reds and Bengals stadiums, as well as the desire to replace or upgrade US Bank Arena.

Project Officials Ready to Move Forward With Next Phase of The Banks

Officials overseeing the development of The Banks have announced that they will soon proceed with the design and construction of the infrastructure needed for the next phase of the massive riverfront project.

Yesterday, at a special meeting of The Banks Steering Committee, the eight-member group unanimously voted in favor of moving forward with what they expect to be $29.3 million worth of work, which would then provide the platform for millions more in private investment in the form of offices, residences and retail on what is referred to as Lot 24.

As has been the case with all prior phases of the mixed-use development, the City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will build out the utilities and roadway network, and construct a 690-space, two-level parking garage that will lift the site out of the Ohio River floodplain. Carter and The Dawson Company – the private development team selected for the project – would consider what elements should be included and then proceed with building and leasing out whatever is built on top of the parking decks.

A guiding principle that has not changed since the beginning of the development process is that the underground parking garage will be reserved for public parking, leaving Carter-Dawson to develop additional above-ground parking to satisfy the City’s mandatory parking requirements.

The Steering Committee said that the public work will be funded through the issuance of $22 million in tax increment finance bonds, and $7 million from the State of Ohio. Project officials say issuance of the bonds is expected to come within the coming months.

While the Carter-Dawson team has not yet decided the exact mix for this third phase of work, it is widely expected to be primarily residential. In total, the zoning and infrastructure for the site will allow for around 320,000 to 400,000 square feet of developable space.

The timing of the announcement could not be better, with work rapidly progressing on General Electric’s 338,000-square-foot Global Operations Center, 19,000 square feet of retail space, and the 291 apartments at the phase two site to the immediate north; and with the announcement that AC Hotels will develop the long-sought hotel along Main Street in front of Great American Ball Park.

Phase two work is expected to be completed in phases throughout 2016, while AC Hotel by Marriott is expected to open in spring 2017.

While management with the Cincinnati Bengals expressed some concern over the loss of one of the team’s few remaining tailgating lots, The Banks itself is evolving into more of an entertainment district than many had thought.

In April, state officials approved a new open-container district law that will soon be in place at The Banks; and yesterday, in a separate move, the Cincinnati Reds applied for a zoning variance to allow for the installation of a video board that will overlook Freedom Way – providing live video programming when the surrounding streets are shut down to cars for special events. Such moves could render tailgating lots obsolete as fans move to the streets on game days.

Project officials say the phasing of construction at the 18-acre site has been carefully coordinated between the district’s various stakeholders, along with the construction schedule of Smale Riverfront Park. As park work has moved west so has work at The Banks, and with the latest work on the park taking place just south of phase three of The Banks, the timing makes perfect sense.

If all goes according to plan, this next phase of infrastructure work could begin as soon as January or February – just after the conclusion of the Bengals football season.

Jake Robinson on His Hometown and Its Rapidly Changing Center City

NBC Universal reached out to UrbanCincy last week asking if we would be interested in conducting an interview with Jake Robinson – a Cincinnati native now living in New York City as a professional actor.

He stars in NBC’s new television series, American Odyssey, which follows the journey of a group of three strangers navigating their way through global politics, corporate espionage, and military secrets in an effort to uncover the truth behind an international conspiracy.

While UrbanCincy does not typically cover entertainment news, we wanted to take the opportunity to gauge Robinson’s thoughts on his hometown. The following interview was conducted by email and has been published with minor editing for formatting purposes.

Randy Simes: How would you describe your upbringing in Cincinnati? Did you visit the city all that often? What were your perceptions of the city?
Jake Robinson: My upbringing was very rural. I grew up in Maineville most of my life. My parents rented a house on an old Quaker property that had been part of the Underground Railroad. I had woods, ponds, streams, and rivers all within exploring distance from my house. It was an incredible place for me to stretch my imagination. I did not go to the city very often. Occasionally we would go for Reds games or to the library, which was my favorite place to be. But the city itself always felt really big and intimidating to me.

RS: Do you have any notable memories of city life in Cincinnati that stand out from your time growing up here? If so, please explain one that really stands out to you.
JR: The one that stands out the most to me was getting to play peewee football at Paul Brown. The stadium had just opened and I remember being totally awestruck when I walked onto that field.

RS: How much do you stay engaged with what is happening in Cincinnati these days?
JR: I still listen to high school football games and follow Cincinnati sports. Also a lot of my family is still in Cincinnati. My brother and his wife are both professors at UC. Everyone that is still there is very involved with the community. So whenever I come home we are always talking about what’s happening in and around the city.

RS: A lot has changed in Cincinnati over the past several years. From when you grew up in the area, Over-the-Rhine and the central riverfront may now be entirely unrecognizable to you. What do you think about the changes that have taken place?
JR: I am so incredibly excited about the changes that Cincinnati has gone through. Downtown is now a destination for me. Whether it’s Fountain Square, The Banks or OTR, the entire city has a new life to it. I always tell my parents if I could do what I do in Cincinnati, I would move back. My two favorites are Rhinegeist and Senate.

RS: While living in NYC, is there anything specific that you miss about your hometown?
JR: I always miss the people, particularly my family. There is a way of life that’s really special in Cincinnati it’s why people keep coming back to the city. I have many friends who have returned to Cincinnati to settle down.

RS: Late last year Cincinnati business and community leaders went on a week-long trip to NYC to showcase Cincinnati’s arts and business prowess. Did you engage with anyone or any of the events at that time?
JR: I went to the May Festival concert at Carnegie Hall because my uncle was involved in the chorus, but I did not get engage with anyone else or any of the other events at the time.

RS: More and more films are selecting Cincinnati as a location for filming in recent years. There are varying reasons for this, but what would you think of being offered the opportunity to perform in something filmed locally?
JR: Cincinnati has done a great job encouraging film makers to come to the city. I think it has a wonderful history and that is a major draw for people. I would be so honored and thrilled to do a project locally. It is definitely a goal for me going forward.

RS: If there is one thing about your experience living elsewhere that you would like to see in Cincinnati, what would that be?
JR: Public transit and transportation in general. Updating and bringing more carriers to CVG, as well as improving suburb to downtown public transit and commute times. I think this is key in continuing to see growth in the downtown area.

RS: Cincinnatians are famous for their TV viewing habits. With this in mind, are you or any of your friends/family planning any special viewing parties/events?
JR: I actually threw the first episode viewing party in NYC, but I know my parents religiously watch the show. I hope everyone is tuning into the show. NBC has some really impressive programming right now and American Odyssey is a big part of it. You can catch up on the show on Hulu or NBC On Demand.

RS: What attracted you to this role in American Odyssey?
JR: The script was the single most important thing when picking this project. I loved how fast-paced and intense it was. Reading it had me on the edge of my seat and watching it has me even more engaged.

RS: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what is your favorite Cincinnati-style chili?
JR: Skyline all the way.

For those interested in watching the new series, you can catch it Sunday nights at 10pm ET on NBC.