Kansas City Celebrating Grand Opening of Midwest’s First Modern Streetcar System

Cincinnati is scheduled to open up its modern streetcar system on September 15, but Kansas City is opening up a system with similar specs today. In fact, they will celebrate the occasion with two days of events aimed at introducing people to the new system.

At 2.2 miles in length, Kansas City has a smaller initial route than Cincinnati’s 3.6-mile system. City leaders there, however, have decided to make the system free to use; and have even made their bus system free during this initial celebration period. In Cincinnati, riders will need to pay $1.00 to ride the streetcar, but there is an ongoing debate about whether there will be an initial period where it will be free.

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The opening of Kansas City’s system is particularly interesting due to the fact that the same streetcar vehicles are being used as the ones in Cincinnati. The City of Fountains has also been experiencing a similar explosion of investment on and around its initial $102 million streetcar segment.

“This is my first time visiting Kansas City, and it’s cool to see how much it’s like Cincinnati,” said Derek Bauman, Southwest Ohio director of All Aboard Ohio. “It’s a mid-sized, Midwestern river town; and everything that I’m seeing here coincides with what we’re seeing in Cincinnati – cranes, economic development, new hotels, new condos, new apartments and people moving back into the city.”

Bauman arrived in Kansas City yesterday and will be reporting live for UrbanCincy on our Facebook and Instagram channels over the next few days. He has already posted a number of videos and live reports from Kansas City showing the massive development taking place there, along with the design of their system.

With robust political support in Kansas City, their streetcar has already seen several major sponsors come on board including Sprint, which is the main sponsor and is also providing free wifi on the system, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City. Aside from verbal statements, Cincinnati’s corporate community has yet to step up and financially support the system in the same way.

Now that it is open to the public, Kansas City’s streetcar will operate from 6am to 12am Monday through Thursday, 6am to 2am on Fridays, 7am to 2am on Saturdays, and 7am to 10pm on Sundays. It will have 10 minute headways during peak weekday periods, and 12 to 18 minute headways all other times. Transportation officials in Kansas City estimate that the system will serve 2,700 riders per day.

“Like in Cincinnati, there is this buzz of people wanting to be in downtown, and live in walkable neighborhoods,” Bauman explained. “We’ve been talking about this for years, but now we’re seeing it come to fruition in both cities.”

You can follow Bauman’s reporting throughout today and tomorrow on Twitter @DerekBauman, live video streaming at Facebook.com/UrbanCincy, and through his photos at Instagram.com/UrbanCincy.

VIDEO: Use Red Bike to Experience Best of Downtown Cincinnati

It’s no secret that the center city boasts a seemingly endless number of things to see and do, for both visitors and locals alike. Moving about from one destination to the next will soon get easier when the Cincinnati Streetcar opens for service, but, for those able to do so, Red Bike serves as a perfect tool to check out as many places as possible.

By taking transit, walking or riding a bike, you can avoid the hassles of fighting traffic, looking and paying for parking, and can check your concerns about parking tickets or other hassles. Plus, it’s also a great way to get some exercise in the process.

Downtown Cincinnati Inc. knows this well.

To help promote such information, they partnered with US Digital Partners on a video to showcase just how convenient and enjoyable it can be to explore the center city by bike. And thanks to the continued expansion of Red Bike, you can now take it to go beyond Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

If the embedded video does not function properly, you can watch it on Vimeo here.

Revised Plan, Drawings Submitted for $27M Mixed-Use Development at Liberty and Elm

After announcing plans for a $27 million mixed-use development at Liberty and Elm Streets, Source 3 Development, the developers of record for the project, have been met with both cheers and push back on their proposal.

Located directly on the streetcar line, the project would be the first major new construction project to occur north of Liberty Street in Over-the-Rhine in many years. As scores of historic buildings are now being renovated around Findlay Market, many see this site as a critical piece of the Northern Liberties puzzle.

While preliminary designs were not released in January when the project was announced, the developer did discuss building massings and programming. Those plans called for the creation of 15,000 square-feet of street-level retail, 165 parking spaces in a three-level garage, and 118 apartments in new buildings, and within four existing historic structures that would be renovated as part of the effort.

In response to those details, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation issued a list of 12 concerns they had about the project. One of the primary issues was related to the appropriateness of a 85-foot-tall structure in a historic district made up of buildings that are generally shorter than that.

“The proposed height of the structure dwarfs all buildings in the surrounding area especially considering the smaller scale of Elm Street and the topographic elevation change from Liberty Street northbound on Elm,” a joint committee made up various neighborhood groups wrote to City Hall March 24.

“This will not only change the historic character of Elm Street and the Over-the-Rhine Historic District, but eliminate the views of downtown Cincinnati’s skyline enjoyed by residents on Elm and Logan.”

Source 3 responded to the comments from Over-the-Rhine Foundation by varying the heights of the two buildings to be construction, and reducing their heights from 85 feet to approximately 76 feet and 54 feet. These adjustments, Source 3 says, will increase the cost of the building and also forced the development team to reduce the number of apartment units in the development by eight.

The developer has also made a variety of other changes to respond to those 12 concerns from the community, including the elimination of two parking spaces in the garage and adjustments along the Liberty Street facade to minimize garage exposure and add retail frontage.

These will be presented to Cincinnati’s Planning Commission, due to a request to rezone the properties from Commercial Community Auto (CC-A) and Residential Mutli-Family 1.2 (RM-1.2) to Planned Development, on Friday, April 15 at 9am.

1940s Era OTR Auto Repair Shop Being Transformed Into Bar and Beer Garden

A former automotive repair shop called Queen City Radio is being re-purposed as a bar with a large outdoor beer garden in Over-the-Rhine.

Chris and Louisa Reckman, along with her brother, Gabriel Deutsch, recently bought the 7,665-square-foot property at 222 W. Twelfth Street due to its terrific location that is within close proximity to the Cincinnati Streetcar, Washington Park, Music Hall, and the Central Parkway protected bike lane.

First constructed in the 1940s as an auto repair shop that focused on car radio installation, the new owners say that they wanted to keep the historic name in order to create a warm new atmosphere for the community.

“We had the idea because every time we drove past it, we saw this ugly parking lot and we need more green space in Over the Rhine,” said Louisa.

To that end, Louisa says that QCR will be dog friendly in order to welcome the many dog owners in the neighborhood – including those visiting the dog park at Washington Park. Additionally, for the dog’s owners, there will be 14 beers on tap, including both local and national brews.

“We just want it to be easy-going – a place where anyone can come,” Louisa told UrbanCincy. “We just want it to be a place where everyone feels comfortable.”

Louisa and her brother have background in the restaurant and bar industry, while her husband works for Urban Expansion – a development organization that has helped renovate spaces that include establishments like Happy Belly and Goodfellas.

Local places like those, and others, are what they say motivated them to pursue such an endeavor.

“We love Neon’s and places like that, but there aren’t that many of them down here,” Louisa explained. “So we said, ‘let’s bring some more greenery…let’s beautify the place.’”

As of now, the team says that they are aiming for a July 4 opening.

Such timing would place them amongst the first of several other planned developments nearby, including an 88,000-square-foot office renovation, the new Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and a new 20-room boutique hotel.

Owners of Historic Dennison Hotel Ask City Hall for Demolition Permission

Information obtained by UrbanCincy through a public records request shows that Columbia REI, LLC has enlisted the legal assistance of Francis Barrett and Timothy Burke to get Historic Conservation Board approval for the demolition of the historic Dennison Hotel.

Built in 1890, the Dennison Hotel is located within the Main Street Historic District and has sat vacant for several years. In the past, the eight-story brick structure had served as a single-occupancy room hotel in what was at that time a seedy part of the central business district.

Over the past several months historic preservationists have been organizing themselves in an effort to track the status of this historic structure as rumors have swirled that the owners were interested in demolition.

The timing becomes all the more urgent with, according to documents filed with City Hall, the owners losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on the property each year, and with the Cincinnati Streetcar, which runs right in front of the property, poised to begin operation in the coming months.

In its application to City Hall, Columbia REI, LLC, which purchased the land from Columbia Oldsmobile Company in January, says that the real estate transaction is part of a larger effort to assemble and “protect” adjoining real estate that is being prepared for a “major redevelopment” that would be in line with the numerous other large-scale development projects taking place nearby.

As part of the demolition request, the owners were required to provide renovation cost estimates, along with the potential economic feasibility of legally permissible or likely uses. The report, completed by Beck Consulting in late February, provides evidence as to why a residential, office or hotel conversion would be challenging, but does not account or consider the possibility of any historic tax credits from the State of Ohio, or other incentives from the City of Cincinnati.

According to Beck Consulting’s report, supplemented by renovation cost estimates from HGC Construction, it would cost approximately $10.5 million to renovate the historic structure into a 60-room hotel with a street-level lobby and restaurant space, $7.9 million to turn it into a 52-unit apartment building, $8.7 million for a 35-unit condominium building, or $5 million to turn it into a 39,000-square-foot office building.

Over recent years, the State of Ohio has awarded tens of millions of dollars in tax credits to historic preservation projects such as this. Given the large-scale and potential economic impact of renovating the Dennison Hotel, it would seem likely that it would be well-positioned for such financial benefits.

According to the meeting schedule for Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board, the application should come up for a hearing on Monday, April 18. All meetings take place at 3pm in the Public Hearing Room on the fifth floor of Two Centennial Plaza at 805 Central Avenue.

EDITORIAL NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Historic Conservation Board would hear this item at their April 4 meeting. Due to the application being submitted on February 23, this item will actually be on the Historic Conservation Board’s April 18 meeting agenda.